We love Evansville like a hopeless romantic, and the reasons we love this city are more than landmarks and attractions. We love our accent, brain sandwiches, and the West and East Side rivalry. We just love us, and you should, too.
On Sept. 22, 2009, two new female cubs, Zimba and Maya, were welcomed into the world. They were the cute offspring of Beliza and Cuxtal, the jaguars inside Amazonia, Mesker Park Zoo’s newest rain forest attraction (1545 Mesker Park Drive, www.meskerparkzoo.com). The sisters are part of a national program to breed threatened or endangered species. That’s good news, but we love the girls because they are downright adorable — for now.
Each June, crewmembers paddle their rented dragon boats — canoe-like vessels with carved dragons’ heads for prows — 300 meters across Eagle Crest Lake to a flag perched on a buoy. Agile members of the boats’ crews, known as flag catchers, climb atop the dragons’ heads and snatch their flags to end the race. This event, known as Dragons on the Ohio for when it began on the river in 2006, has grown every year. At the end of 2009, organizers purchased two dragon boats for the 2010 race (June 5).
A recipe for a catfish fiddler: Chop the head off a catfish, dip it in batter, deep-fry it, and serve it nearly intact with bones, fins, and the tail. The origin of the fiddler has more questions than answers. (Where did the dish come from? Why is it called a “fiddler”? Why is it so darn good?) The latter question can be answered, actually. The grease gives the catfish an even brown color and a corny, crispy shell that crunches like a tortilla chip. Find fiddlers at Dogtown Tavern (6201 Old Henderson Road), Knob Hill Tavern (1016 State St., Newburgh, Ind.), and Haub House (206 N. Main St., Haubstadt, Ind.).
We live on the Ohio River’s north bank, which geographically means we are in Yankee country. That’s a fact. Check it out on Google Maps. When standing on the Downtown Riverfront, however, we can plainly see Kentucky — a mere five-minute drive for many Evansvillians. This dichotomy’s given us our unique accent: a blend of Yankee cool and Southern charm.
Phil Wolter’s job site is haunted, and his employees are a bloodthirsty clan of vampires. Every fall, the full-time haunted-house designer transforms Evansville’s most recognizable Downtown landmark, the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse, into the “Olde Courthouse Catacombs” (www.oldcatacombs.com). The dirt floors and vaulted ceilings are creepy on their own, but Wolter’s elaborate sets, live actors, and smart storylines intensify the setting even more.[pagebreak]
We didn’t invent the popular backyard game involving eight beanbags and two boards, each with one hole. (Cincinnatians passionately make that claim, despite lack of conclusive evidence.) We do love it, though, and we did host the 2009 World Championship of Cornhole. Nearly 1,000 spectators packed the Metro Sports Center (5820 Metro Center Drive) as Kentuckian Matt Guy and (appropriately) Cincinnatian Randy Atha, a duo known as the OK Connection, out-tossed 125 teams in a 12-hour cornhole marathon.
Where can you find diamond rings, drum sets, guns, and guitars? Goldman’s Pawn Shop (107 S.E. Fourth St.) is loveable not just for its wildly diverse selection of merchandise, but for its history. Since the shop opened in 1898, it has passed hands through five generations of family members.
We loved Roberts Stadium. We loved it so much that we wore it out. Demolition began Downtown in late 2009 to make way for a new state-of-the-art, 11,000-seat arena, slated for completion by the end of next year.
The sheer size of Evansville’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure (www.komenevansville.org) is awe-inspiring: The event once drew more than 18,000 runners and walkers. But participants know it’s not about the numbers; it’s about the camaraderie and support. Last year, during a pre-race speech, NEWS 25 anchor and breast cancer survivor Shelley Kirk pulled off her baseball cap and revealed her bald head to massive applause from her audience.
In a constantly changing world, it’s comforting to know there are some things you can count on. Technology isn’t one of them, but fortunately, the Floppy Disk at Bits & Bytes (216 N.W. Fourth St.) stuck around even when its namesake became obsolete. With fresh pita rounds, shreds of Colby Jack cheese, a choice of deli meat, and the garlicky, ever-intriguing “secret sauce,” the sandwich has been a staple since the Downtown deli opened in 1986.
For 10 years, an 1818-built granary in rural Southwest Indiana has been an enchanting home for live music. The Under the Beams concert series in the Rapp-Owen Granary (413 Granary St., New Harmony, Ind.) is “just one spoke of the cultural wheel of New Harmony,” says Liz Mumford, a founder of the series that brings everything from swing music to chamber orchestras to New Harmony. No matter who’s performing at Under the Beams (www.underthebeams.org), the granary’s beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, and intimate setting are magical.[pagebreak]
Evansville is a city founded on a rich German heritage, and Germans drink beer. Lots of beer. So the Gerst Haus (2100 W. Franklin St.), a German restaurant on the West Side housed in a century-old former hardware store, offers an ice-cold “fishbowl” of its house beer for less than $3. Gerst beer once was brewed in Evansville’s Sterling Brewery; the amber brew now comes from Pittsburgh but still ranks as the Gerst Haus’ top-selling beer.
A walk down West Franklin Street feels like a living history museum — a glimpse into a time before chain shops and restaurants dominated the retail landscape. Locally owned bakeries, antique stores, and pharmacies line the street, the main artery through Evansville’s West Side that somehow manages to be both rustic and grand.
An inch of snow is predicted tonight — quick! Hurry to the grocery store and clear the shelves — and drive 10 mph through the flurries while you’re at it. Our abject terror at the prospect of winter weather baffles many a Northern transplant, and while Evansville has its share of true emergencies (the January 2009 ice storm, for one), our fear usually is unfounded.
Indiana residents are nationally known for “Hoosier hysteria,” our passion for basketball. That’s true for the die-hard fans of the University of Evansville Purple Aces and the University of Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles, but our city’s love of sports transcends the basketball court. State champions at Memorial High School soccer, Reitz football, and Mater Dei wrestling — Evansville has plenty of its own cherished sports traditions.
We like to think a dog is man’s best friend. But when you take your dog to Evansville’s Central Bark Dog Park (www.evansvilledogpark.org), in Kleymeyer Park off Diamond and First avenues, it’s obvious that dogs are dogs’ best friends. Somehow, tiny terriers, playful Labrador Retrievers, and slobbery Mastiffs all get along — and they have a ball-chasing, tug-of-warring, tail-wagging good time. A trip to this members-only park is entertaining for humans and canines alike.
When Hilltop Inn’s brain sandwich was named “the manliest sandwich in America,” by men’s humor Web site www.asylum.com, it was no joke. “There’s definitely something about mashing up something’s brain, frying it in a pan, and dropping it on a bun that’s guaranteed to put hair on your chest,” wrote Asylum editor-in-chief Neil Gladstone. More than 10,000 are sold yearly at the West Side restaurant (1100 Harmony Way). Imagine the excitement Gladstone would feel if he only knew we also ate fried chicken hearts. Technically, we drive to Fleig’s Café in Ferdinand, Ind., and Mac-A-Doo’s in Jasper, Ind., for such delicacies.[pagebreak]
We’ve expressed our love of roller derby women before. We love their passion, ferocity, and clever names (Betty ClockHer, Yoko OhNo!, and Painbow Brite, for starters), and quite frankly, they scare us, which is just how they want us to feel. Plus, there are so many: the Rollergirls of Southern Indiana, known as ROSI (www.rollergirlsofsin.com), and the Demolition City Roller Derby (www.demolitioncityrollerderby.com). That’s dozens of women who are hell on wheels.
The devil may be in the drink, but patrons of the artsy Penny Lane Coffeehouse (600 S.E. Second St.) say “El Diablo” is heaven-sent. The dark roast is fabled to cure a hangover — and we say a healthy veggie wrap or vegan baked goodie can’t hurt, either.
Six miles of walking trails. Centuries-old trees. The chance to spot deer, raccoons, and marbled salamanders. These are just a few of the reasons why Evansvillians love Wesselman Woods. This East Side nature preserve (551 N. Boeke Road, www.wesselmannaturesociety.org) is the largest urban forest in the United States for cities with more than 100,000 residents, and it’s a peaceful paradise for city dwellers craving a getaway.
The Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage (www.pcgreenway.org) is the little project that could. For decades, the planned 42-mile pedestrian and bicycle trail was just that: a plan. Now, construction is moving along slowly but surely, and the project marched on in 2009. Six stainless steel panels with images of Evansville’s transportation history were installed at the Shirley James Gateway Plaza at the Mead Johnson Trailhead. In October, the 1891-built Joan Marchand Bridge (on Ohio Street between Fulton and Wabash avenues) was restored, painted bright red, and converted into an Ohio River overlook with benches and bicycle racks. Late this year, look for a new section of the greenway to connect Franklin and Maryland streets.
In 2004, a group of Vanderburgh County Health Department nurses realized that simply advising patients to exercise wasn’t enough — people needed a resource to help them get started. So the nurses compiled a booklet called “Evansville In Motion,” which provided maps and distances of local walking and running routes. (Download it at www.vanderburghgov.org or www.gerwc.com, the Web site of the Greater Evansville Runners/Walkers Club.) A few gems: the Riverfront stretch of the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage, a loop around the Evansville State Hospital grounds, and the killer hill workout at Burdette Park.
Last year, just before Christmas, an anonymous benefactor known only as “Pete” called Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center and directed staff members to an evergreen tree near two Dumpsters. There, they found a metal Christmas tree with 30 hundred-dollar bills secured to the branches. “Pete” has quietly visited the center every year since 1990, and his cash donations have added up to nearly $65,000. Employees at Easter Seals (www.eastersealsswindiana.com), which provides therapy and other services to people with disabilities, look forward to his visits, and so does the community. “Pete’s” anonymous generosity is one of Evansville’s most heartwarming traditions.[pagebreak]
Evansville’s Bosse Field (1701 N. Main St.), the nation’s third oldest professional ballpark, was immortalized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own as the home of a women’s baseball team, the Racine Belles. Crowds at Bosse Field won’t see the home team (www.evansvilleotters.com) in skirts, but they will see the Otter Belles, the dance team that sports old-fashioned uniforms like the movie characters’ — dresses, knee socks, and baseball caps — and runs the promotions that get kids psyched.
Next time you write your return address on an envelope, thank Colonel Robert Evans that you aren’t from McGary’s Landing, Ind. That was our city’s original name in 1812, after Hugh McGary purchased land in what now is Downtown Evansville. The name didn’t stick, though, and in 1814, the settlement was renamed to honor Evans, a prominent territorial legislator.
The Hadi Shrine Circus, an Evansville institution, dazzles crowds every Thanksgiving weekend with a troupe of high-flying trapeze artists, comical clowns, and enormous elephants in a three-ring circus. 2010 is the 77th year for the circus, and it isn’t unusual to see several generations of the same family munching on peanuts and cheering for the circus acts.
With a core group of four talented young musicians, this Evansville “musictelling” ensemble (www.talesandscales.org) blends music, theater, dance, and storytelling into captivating performances and workshops that are a hit with local schoolchildren. But don’t take it from us. In the words of Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Keith Lockhart, the troupe has “one of the most imaginative, musically creative, and professionally executed approaches to music education that I have ever encountered.”
Six years ago, organizers of the inaugural Evansville Half Marathon (www.evansvillehalfmarathon.org) knew they needed more than just a 13.1-mile race. They needed a training program that could inspire seasoned racers and couch potatoes alike. Since then, thousands of Evansvillians old and young, fast and slow, and everything in between have crossed the finish line, and every October, community members offer wholehearted support. Our half-marathon (Oct. 10) truly is a democratic event.
Maybe the rivalry began when the West Side was a town all its own known as Lamasco. It lasted just 21 years until Lamasco merged with Evansville in 1857. Does the attitude of a city change when a citizen crosses Pigeon Creek, the grand divider of the East and West Sides? Maybe. Is that a problem? No. Each October, doesn’t every Evansvillian enjoy the fried food at the West Side Nut Club’s Fall Festival on West Franklin Street? Each December, doesn’t every Evansvillian hit Green River Road to find a retail bargain? Subtle differences make each half of the city unique, but we certainly aren’t divided.[pagebreak]
We’re German, and we’re proud. (Just check out the city street names or count the Eickhoffs and Zirkelbachs in the local phone book.) Perhaps nowhere is Evansville’s heritage — ahem — displayed more proudly than by the lederhosen-wearing men at the annual Volksfest (August 5-7). Hosted by Germania Mannerchor (916 N. Fulton Ave., www.germania.evansville.net), the local German singing club, this festival has beer, brats, and polka music aplenty. Prost!
The popular 1988-1997 sitcom Roseanne was set in the fictional town of Lanford, Ill., but exterior shots of Roseanne’s yellow-sided home (619 S. Runnymeade Ave.); favorite hangout, “the Lobo” (now Talk of the Town Pizza, 1200 Edgar St.); and other spots were filmed in Evansville. The connection? Roseanne co-creator and producer Matt Williams grew up here.
From Italianate to Queen Anne, a walk through the Riverside Historic District is a lesson in popular architectural styles of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Roughly bounded by Southlane Drive and Walnut, Third, and Parrett streets, the district earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Many of the mansions on First Street and Riverside Drive once were home to Evansville’s latter-day luminaries such as former bank president Charles Viele. The cornerstone of the district: the 1871-built Reitz Home Museum (224 S.E. First St., www.reitzhome.evansville.net), called one of the nation’s finest examples of French Second Empire architecture.
More than 125 tons of tomatoes are produced in the world each year. None better can be found than at Ollie’s Sports Bar & Grill (4920 Bellemeade Ave.). Owner J.B. Dearing relies on loyal patrons for fresh produce, including lettuce and jalapeños. From June through September, the tomatoes in the salads and on the sandwiches come from the home garden of John Pickens, a retired Alcoa employee. Pickens’ 40 pounds of tomatoes each week give Ollie’s beautifully red, sweet, and homegrown fruit.
When Evansville’s Greyhound bus station opened in 1939 at the corner of Third and Sycamore streets, it was more than a bustling transportation hub. It symbolized the romance of the open road. Now, the long-distance bus transportation station is all but obsolete. In 2007, Evansville’s Greyhound terminal moved a few blocks away to the METS station, and the iconic building — which once saw more than 100 arriving and departing buses daily — has been vacant ever since. Its future remains uncertain.
Name an institution that has more history in Evansville than the Log Inn (12653 S. 200 E., Haubstadt, Ind.). The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana says you can’t. They’ve named the family-style restaurant — known for heaping plates of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and green beans — as the oldest business in the Hoosier state operating in its original building. Since 1825, the Log Inn has served a smorgasbord of hungry patrons, including a president before he was commander-in-chief. In 1844, Abraham Lincoln dined at the inn during a speaking tour to support the Whig Party, or so the legend goes. We imagine he ate family-style, too.