1947 Centennial Celebration

One warm summer day in 1947 shortly after I had graduated from high school, one of the City fathers called the Ronk home asking if I would compete in a contest to choose a Queen for the Monon Railroad. Seven girls from town were asked to compete in the contest to be held during an intermission of a band concert held weekly in Ladoga. Lo and behold, I was chosen.

On the Saturday before the celebration was to begin, I boarded the train to French Lick for a banquet at the French Lick Springs Hotel. I was just a little country bumpkin and had never seen much of anything. I just thought it was the most grand and glorious places I had ever seen. And it was.

That evening I was seated at a large round table in the Grand Ballroom along with the Governor of Indiana but I don’t remember being very impressed by that fact. I was more impressed by the grandeur of the ballroom and the hotel. That evening at 9 o’clock we boarded the Pullman sleepers parked on the siding adjacent to the Hotel and traveled north to Hammond on the scheduled overnight train where we arrived at 8 o’clock Sunday morning.

The real celebration began the following morning with hundreds of people crowding around the B&O Railroad’s old William Mason and the old time coach that was coupled on behind. Present too was the Monon’s streamliner in which we had traveled the day prior. There was a quartet, the Mid-States Four who traveled with us. They sang songs composed just for the Centennial in Hammond and at every stop along the line. The one that I remembered most was  ”Up and down the Monon.”

“Up and down the Monon, everything is fine because the Monon is a Hoosier Line.” 

There were other songs: Belle of the Monon, Hoosier Time, The Man Who Paid My Fare, Indiana Is So Rich, Monticello Moon, Little Sleepy Town, The Brown County Hills, Last Call for Dinner and Those Wonderful Monon Meals. They were sung by the quartet at every stop along the way.

Over the years that followed we always called ourselves Belles of the Monon. There was some confusion as to whether we were Belles of the Monon or Queens. In actuality the six girls from New Albany were the only Belles and we were the Queens, each of us, representing our home towns. Each Queen wore a sash “Miss whatever city we represented.”

As the train pulled into a town she represented as a Queen, she stood on the rear platform and threw little ten inch circular cardboard discs advertising the song sheets and the recordings that you could buy at your local music dealer. We were, in effect, helping to advertise, not only the songs, but the Monon itself in the process.

Probably at the stop in Crawfordsville, someone delivered a box for me containing a yellow dress. There was a little note in it that said, “Hope you can get changed into this dress before the train leaves for Ladoga. We were afraid that you didn’t have enough good dresses for the trip. Love, Mom and Dad.”

The daughter of John Barriger went with me into one of the cars and helped me get changed into that yellow dress. And that is the dress I wore as we came into Ladoga. And we wore real cool hats like the ones an Army private would wear. The Queens each had another hat but it was white with a big veil. Unfortunately, I lost mine over the years.

In Ladoga, we were greeted by a carriage with fringe on it and citizens dressed in Civil War costumes among a crowd of 500 people. The Ladoga Lions Club passed out boxes of candy to all the girls on the train when we stopped there. I felt sad when one of the girls remarked that she would be able to remember Ladoga only because that was where we got the candy. At each town we were given wooden nickels by Mrs. Barriger and we were throwing them out to the crowds.

We continued to travel down the Monon into New Albany. Many of the girls rode in a miniature train, a replica of a streamliner, in the terrific parade that was held there. The people of Ladoga had given me a corsage to wear in the parade. But since I already had received one from the Monon, I was able to give one to Miss Roachdale after someone had knocked her Monon corsage off and crushed it. That evening was the fireworks display which I was able to watch from a room at the New Albany High School. What a way to end an unforgettable trip.

I should mention too that after returning home I had multiple requests for dates and of having to turn down a lot of them. It made me….well, let’s say it was a real boost.

By Mary Etta Ronk Chase, original story appeared in The Hoosier Line, Volume 16 Number 3

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