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Culver History by Harvey Firari

Harvey Firari

Harvey Firari, who taught for many years at Culver Academy and has a monthly online column called "Small Town," has written several articles about Culver's History for his column. With his kind permission, we reprint them here. Mr. Firari's website may be seen here. Also of interest to Culver residents may be his collaboration with local artist Esther Miller for a children's book, Big Scare in Small Town. Click here for more on the book..(Click any pictures to enlarge to full-size)

Jump to an article: Allen Weaver -- The Maxinkuckee Playhouse Part I -- The Maxinkuckee Playhouse Part II -- The Maxinkuckee Boat

Allen Weaver by Harvey Firari

What does a farmer know about history?

     That remark, as I had anticipated, drew a murmur of disapproval from the audience overflowing the spacious living room of  Agnes Bramfeld’s cottage on August 12, 2000. Although  Mr. Allen Weaver has lived all of his 80 years on a farm just outside of Culver, he is not your stereotypical hick farmer, but rather a modern Renaissance man:  a living almanac of local history, an opera buff, a perennial scholar.

     For over an hour, Mr. Weaver gave an amazing display of recall by fielding questions about people and events in Culver and along the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee. He drew a lively picture of band concerts in the town park and described the way bullfrogs along the edges of the lake responded with a chorus of  mating calls to the tubas.

     More music was in the air during the visits of Mme. Ernestine Schumann-Heink, an internationally famous contralto, who on one occasion gave an impromptu performance on the porch of the Culver Hotel. While working on a column a few years ago, I asked Allen on the phone what song she had sung on the porch, and he responded by singing to me the drinking song from “La Traviata,” belting out the dual roles of Violetta and Alfredo.

     Allen acquired his love of music from Elizabeth Hubbell, a Culver music teacher, and from his father, an accountant and a close associate of the founder of Marshall Fields. Often Mr. Field invited Allen to Chicago to attend opera performances. His father knew Caruso and they visited Enrico Caruso, Jr. when Enrico was enrolled at CMA.

     Allen described his brush with death at the age of l3. He and some of his friends were standing along the edge of the road when the 1933 bank robber’s car passed by with guns pointed toward the boys. They were close enough to see the bleeding body of Joseph Switalski, who had been shot by Oliver Shilling, and to identify Dr. C. G. Mackey as the driver of the car in pursuit of the bandits.

    While answering questions, Alllen would be reminded of other anecdotes and stories--steamboats on the lake, the ice industry and the weeds used to keep the ice from melting, groceries delivered to the doorstep by Sears & Roebuck, the Jungle Hotel, Sugar Nights--too many tales to recount here. At his side was his son Dan to amplify the questions. Later, Dan said that he had never realized the extent of his father’s grasp of history and, as a result, he felt inspired to begin working on a permanent record of the remembrances. Our society should be pleased that the meeting  provided the springboard to a future book, which could be entitled: “Stories Told at My Grandfather’s Knee.”

     Dan’s full name is Daniel Boone Weaver. There’s a brother Mark Twain. Roberta was named after the opera singer Roberta Peters. You can guess who Martha was named after. They have provided Allen and his wife of  55 years with nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Society member Peggy Gimbel passed along a bit of history--Allen was named after her father, Colonel Allen Elliott, and Allen’s sister Margaret after Peggy’s mother. Shelly Drang, who watches over the blood pressure of the elderly at the Lake Shore Clinic, is the daughter of Margaret and has told me stories that I can’t repeat in this article, but they establish young Allen as the Huck Finn of Thorn Road.

     So it’s not surprising that Mr. Allen Weaver’s favorite quote is flavored with boyhood nostalgia. Let’s hope the second time around he’s nicer to cats.  

Backward, turn backward, O Time in your flight, Make me a Boy again--just for tonight. -- Elizabeth Akers Allen

A History of the Maxinkuckee Playhouse Part I - October 2002

John A. Cleveland 

June 7, 1927 - September 15, 2002

John Cleveland

This two-part history of Small Town’s Maxinkuckee Playhouse is dedicated to thememory of John Cleveland. John was one of the founders of Culver’s Antiquarian & Historical Society, editor-in-chief of its newsletter, the energizer of many civic projects. This article is one of the last pieces of writing that John edited (along with Jo Dugger and Agnes Bramfeld). An opera buff, a baseball fan, John was also a fierce competitor on the tennis court, someone who did not accept defeat lightly.

The community, his family, and his many friends have suffered a great loss.

Maxinkuckee Playhouse (1950 - 1961)

 Don’t let it be forgot That once there was a spot For one brief shining moment that was known As Culver’s Camelot

Part One: For almost a dozen years after World War II, area residents had the good fortune to be entertained by one of the best straw-hat theater groups in the nation. During three months of each summer, from 1950 to 1961, at least eight quality plays or Broadway musicals were staged by the first Maxinkuckee Players, a group of revolving professional and college actors, many of them destined to gain prominence in the world of entertainment.

As one of the founders, Martin Tahse had begun his stage career while he was a cadet at the Culver Military Academy. After graduating in 1948, he continued his involvement in dramatics at the University of Cincinnati, where he studied under Professor Paul Rutledge, head of the theater division. Out of this relationship was born the idea to create a summer theater on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee.

Winifred Legg's Maxinkuckee Vacation Club

Winifred Legg's Maxinkuckee Vacation Club, Culver, Indiana (Front of Club House)

Together they examined various locations and then with the help of Anne Ellsworth, a local real estate agent, discovered the Vacation Club, a property owned by Winifred Legg, who used the long two-story building just off East Shore Lane as a summer school for girls. Sometimes described as the Green Barn, the structure was adjacent to the property of Ruth Johnson, with whom Winifred shared an easement to the lake. While Paul and Martin were walking about inside the Green Barn, one of them accidentally kicked a cowbell. Both reached the same conclusion simultaneously: the cowbell was a favorable omen, a tinkling symbol, a sign that they had found the right place. And so it was that the Maxinkuckee Playhouse came into existence with the lucky cowbell, an icon that for many years would alert the audience that the play was about to begin.

The Maxinkuckee Playhouse - 1950

Supported by such local residents as Betty Shetterly, manager of the Maxinkuckee Inn acting as a major player in the negotiations, Dorothy Oberlin, J. Gerald Markley, Arthur Hughes, and Col. Charles C. Mather, the team of Rutledge and Tahse purchased the Vacation Club with the financial backing of Will Osborn and began drawing up plans to use the second floor for the stage and 125 folding chairs for the audience. Later, the chairs would be made more comfortable by Nora Howell’s gift of seat cushions.

The first floor would provide space for a box office, a Green Room for actors, and a place for theatergoers to gather at intermissions for refreshments and entertainment. Outside, parking problems were solved with the rental of a large lot with its own entrance, making it possible to keep traffic off East Shore Lane.

The nucleus of actors was drawn from colleges in the Cincinnati-Cleveland areas. Many of the actors moved on after a year or two. There were exceptions. Bob Moak signed on the second summer and endeared himself to Culver audiences for the next 11 years in 98 productions. Although his forte was playing befuddled old men, Bob often shifted gears and gave powerful performances in Cat on the Hot Tin Roof , The Flowering Peach, and equally challenging plays. (At the time of this report (2001), Bob is still provoking laughter and tears in theaters around Louisville and Phoenix.)

Bob Moak & Mimi Bowen

Here Playhouse favorite Bob Moak pinches the cheek of Mimi Bowen.When the traditional old man (often tricked by young lovers) was needed,you can be sure that Bob was onstage in powdered white wig,a leer buried in the wrinkles, and the familiar cane at his side.

Not all of the actors came from the outside. Many times local citizens were cast, three of them appearing on opening night, June 21, 1950. Dorothy Oberlin (later Mills) gave an excellent interpretation of Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit, along with Mary Bishop, who had appeared in plays at the Culver Military Academy, and Nancy Todd (Kutcher), whose mother would later marry John Edgell.

Later that summer, another local actress Marj Overmyer played Amanda in The Glass Menagerie opposite Tom Brubaker as the rebellious son. Marj continued her theatrical career with the LaPorte drama group, while Mr. Brubaker directed many plays in the South Bend area and eventually became the founder of PBS Channel 34, South Bend, Elkhart. He now does tech work at The Firehouse with Jim Coppens, who once worked as PR director at the Culver Academies.

12 Years Later - the Final Curtain

In 196l when the playhouse closed its doors forever, the lead in Flower Drum Song was played by local resident Bob Glaze, whose sister Tommye Lou, a runner-up in the Miss America contest, had earlier been starred in Brigadoon. Bob (later enacted Buffalo Bill on an Indy radio station) had three Culverites with him in the cast--Betty Kose and Donna Dawson in minor roles--while Lana Berger was in charge of the music and provided the accompaniment.

Between the first and final productions, names of people associated with Culver and the lake keep appearing in the history of the playhouse. William Inge, who had spent summers on the lake, wrote some of the plays produced here, which had been directed earlier on Broadway by CMA graduate Josh Logan, whose father once worked as a military officer at the Culver Military Academy.

Esther O’Callaghan had a role in You Can’t Take It with You. Peter Sexton did tech work, and Emerson Cabell’s name often appeared, probably because his wife, nicknamed Agie, was the company’s cook, dietitian and confidant. Operating on a shoestring budget, the players were grateful that good neighbors like Marilyn Kelly supplemented their almost strictly hot-dog fare with fresh vegetables, solved their car and bus problems by providing the services of Norman, her husband, and contributed homegrown boy actors to their casts.

In addition to David and Steve Kelly, Jackie Maull soon established himself as a confident child actor, reaching the heights of thespian glory as the boy Patrick in the musical Auntie Mame. Other child actors in various productions were Sugar Fell, Don Reed, Tina and Eric Hughes, and Coke Smith, Jr.

More about Martin Tahse

After about two years, co-founder and co-director Martin Tahse left the Maxinkuckee Playhouse for service in the US Air Force-- (the Korean War was going on)--but he never succeeded in getting the theater out of his blood. After his discharge, he formed touring companies of Broadway shows with financial support from two of his former CMA classmates: Jackson Parriott and George Steinbrenner, who said he was an investor and didn’t want to be called "an angel." No one had any objections to that.

Martin eventually reached Hollywood, where he produced movies and TV shows. One of his most successful endeavors was the After-School Television Specials aimed at young people.

New Blood - 1953

Following in the footsteps of Martin Tahse, two stalwart performers arrived on the scene at the playhouse, and for the next eight years, Sally Noble of Kokomo served in the capacity of an incredibly talented leading lady. She was joined by David Hager of South Bend, first as the company’s scene designer, later as an actor, director, and co-manager. In 1956 Sally and David were joined in wedlock, a union that produced a son. (Today Sally occasionally will play a role, but some years ago David, after suffering from a serious illness, passed away.)

Paul RutledgePaul Rutledge, left, one of the original founders of the playhouse, with David Hager,who replaced the other co-founder, Martin Tahse, after two years. Photo was taken during the players 59th production, the Pulitzer Prize winning play,Picnic, written by former summer resident of Lake Maxinkuckee William Inge.

In this area, both Sally and David will always be remembered by theatergoers for their performances as the lovers in The Moon Is Blue and for David’s interpretation of the witch boy in Dark of the Moon. That role may have helped him escape burning to death when gasoline ignited during the cleaning of some old paint in the playhouse.

Not just satisfied to put on a different play each week on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee, the energetic players began traveling to Lake Wawasee on Mondays, when the big switch from one play to another took place, to share the previous week’s play in a tent theater under the management of Douglas S. Cramer, who would eventually wind up in Hollywood producing such television shows as Love Boat and Dynasty with Aaron Spelling. The first show re-produced in Wawasee was Charley’s Aunt.

"During the second year, about an hour before the opening of Affairs of State in Wawasee in 1954," writes Paul Rutledge, "a tornado swept through the area and completely destroyed the tent operation. No one was injured. We tried to carry on in a barn, but it was soon obvious that working two locations was too grueling and created too many logistic problems"

Although renovations back in 1951 under the leadership of Don Trone and his citizens committee had increased the seating space to 158, the company managers decided it would be best to stop out-of-town engagements and to improve the Culver location. Another group of lake residents headed up by Pierce Ward, Walter W. Foskett, and William C. Griffith, with the cooperation of The State Exchange Bank, helped finance the building of a new playhouse.

New Theater ConstructionNew Theater in process of construction.

 A History of the Maxinkuckee Playhouse Part II - November 2002

View From Parking LotView from the parking lot, showing side of new theaterwith company house, lobby and box office in background.

Early in March of 1955, the versatile David Hager and his brother Dan supervised the clearing of the ground for the new building that he had designed. Professor Rutledge picks up the story here: "It was a very wet spring and many times it seems that the new theater could not be ready for its June opening. The old upstairs theater space had been remodeled to provide comfortable living quarters for the company. The new theater was the only space available for the opening.

"The Fourposter had been chosen as the opener. While most of the company helped put on roofing, sand doors, or paint walls, Sally Noble and Tom Burke would rehearse their lines. Finally that opening night came. The house, now seating 225, was sold out, but as yet we had no electricity. Although the set was up and finished, Tom and Sally had never practiced on the stage. At eight o’clock when some of the first audience members were parking in the lot, the final electrical connection was made and ‘the show went on.’ Those in that first night audience never knew what a really last minute drama had taken place."

According to The Culver Citizen (John Cleveland’s father, Chester W., the publisher and editor of the paper at that time, had always supported the players with free publicity and lots of encouragement, as had his predecessor Bob Rust): "The opening performance was preceded by a few well-chosen words from Paul Rutledge, the talented young genius, who thanked Culver and Lake people for their help and cooperation in making the building possible."

The additional space was badly needed because the reputation of the group had spread out in all directions with block bookings from social groups and businesses, drawing an estimated 10,000 outsiders into the area during a given summer. After a ticket office was opened in South Bend, show buses ran almost nightly from that city, stopping at a restaurant for dinner before the show, and joining the company members for pie and coffee after the performance, before boarding the buses once more.

For the most part, when one considers the hordes of people invading the East Shore, it’s a wonder that few serious accidents occurred. On one occasion, July of 1957, forty steel-and-wire executives of Chicago began the festivities with drinks and dinner at the Culver Inn. Then they were transported by Frank Amond’s tour boat to a new pier owned by Ronald Gales. When the slightly tipsy group all piled out of the boat onto the pier, it gave way and they plunged into the lake. The soaked celebrators (including a Mr. Long, who was about four-feet tall) were fished out and taken back to the Inn to get out of their wet clothes and into another dry martini. The playhouse held curtain for them until they returned--this time by car.

If you’ve ever been in a play or helped with backstage work, you know the time, effort, and work required to produce respectable entertainment. You have to wonder how it was possible for these young directors and performers to produce a different play each week of the season: memorizing lines of three different plays at the same time; building of multiple sets, re-setting of lights on Mondays, blocking and running rehearsals. Did the audiences realize how much work went into Paul Rutledge’s magic carpet that carried them from visiting on a small planet to living a life with father; from an Okinawan teahouse to a New York penthouse; from "our town" to Brigadoon; from discovering if the moon is blue or dark; from George Washington’s bed to a couple’s fourposter; from being a camera to stopping at a bus station; from either inheriting the wind or getting the seven-year itch?

Stakag 17lProduction picture from "Stalag 17".Stan Beck, current Broadway actor, in center

 David Canary Arrives - 1958

The 1958 summer was probably the most exciting and explosive season in the history of the playhouse. David Canary, already a fine dramatic actor with a voice trained for musicals, arrived and set into motion a string of musical comedies. The reviewer of his first show wrote that "he has about as much charm as anyone we’ve seen on the Maxinkuckee stage for a long time." He shared billing with Tommye Lou Glaze in Plain and Fancy and with the perennial favorite Sally Noble in The Boy Friend. He demonstrated his dramatic talent as Brady in Inherit the Wind.

Later, David achieved national fame as Candy in the television show Bonanza. Since 1983 he has been playing the double role of Adam and Stuart, bad guy and good guy, in the soap opera All My Children (noon - ABC). In his spare time, he makes spot appearances in such musicals as The Man of LaMancha.

He returned to the Maxinkuckee Playhouse in 1960 and sang the male lead in Kiss Me, Kate. During that same season, Jon Jory, son of Victor, allowed the players to give a premier production of his original comedy Tipsy Rebellion. The play didn’t go far, but Jon did to Louisville, where he founded the Actors Theater, the host for many years of a national short play contest. (Currently, Jon is chairman of the drama graduate program at the University of Washington, Seattle).

A few other luminaries- to-be who appeared at the playhouse were Dick Sinatra, a relative of Ol’ Blue Eyes, Kent Guthrie, an actor and folk singer, and Hoosier Bernie Pollack, now a famous Hollywood costume designer, who has worked with his brother Sydney, producer and director of such award-winning movies as Out of Africa and Tootsie.

Diary of Anne Frank

Cast of "Diary of Anne Frank" celebrate the good news that the Allies are winning the war.Sally Nobel as 'Anne' in center.

 Ring down the Curtain - 196l

A startling announcement in the July 26, 1961 issue of The Culver Citizen: Bad News! Maxinkuckee Playhouse Is Leaving Culver for Michigan. Paul Rutledge was taking our cowbell to greener pastures. The transplanted theater moved to the Cherry County Playhouse of Traverse City, but lasted only two years. Once more the cowbell was on the move and ended up on the Showboat Majestic docked at the public landing on the banks of the Ohio River, where for 17 years it continued to warn patrons that the curtain was going up. Today it is resting in the Cincinnati home of Paul Rutledge, now retired from Cincinnati University and Cambridge University, England.

Before leaving the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee, Paul paid tribute to Bob Moak for his work in 98 of the 120 summer productions. After reviewing his years of dedicated service, Paul said: "Certainly the Maxinkuckee Playhouse was greater than Bob Moak, but likewise the Playhouse found in Bob Moak one of the chief reasons for being great. With his departure, an institution was passing and one of its brightest lights was heralding the demise."

Paul, the founder, was no longer just talking about Bob Moak when he added: "Culver is losing more than it can realize in these waning days of summer."

The brief shining moment had ended.

Was the Playhouse Really Dead?

The original playhouse (Winifred Legg’s Vacation Club) was soon torn down and the "new" playhouse and land were sold to Gene Furry and Dwight Wildermuth. According to Jack Campbell, the playhouse was used by his marina as a place to store boats in the winter. So where actors once trod the boards in the summers, boats boarded there in winters, some of them sitting on the stage with the only applause coming from the blowing wind and falling rain. Later, when the boards had begun to rot, Jack’s son David stepped on the stage and found himself, without the benefit of a trapdoor, a level below. Currently, the playhouse is owned by Allen Becker, who graciously conducted me on a tour of what is now a storage shed. About the only touching reminders of a place for plays are EXIT signs over two doors. Not long ago, Allen saw a stranger standing the middle of the road, looking toward the playhouse.On being questioned, he said that once long ago he had appeared on the playhouse stage as an actor (Stanley or Jeff Beck?), but now, as a movie technician, he was traveling from the making of the basketball movie "Blue Chips" to another location.

Special thanks to Scott Pietka and his loyal staff of the Culver-Union Township Library for helping with the search through twelve-years of The Culver Citizen. The collated material will eventually be filed away in a folder and placed in the History Room of the newly-renovated Carnegie Library in downtown Culver, along with the valuable correspondence from Paul Rutledge (who might be persuaded to send that cowbell back home) and any old photos or playbills from patrons of those bygone days of glorious entertainment.

The MAXINKUCKEE Boat - February 2003

For forty years in the middle of the 20th Century, a sure sign that summer had once more returned to Culver was the sight of an excursion boat traveling along the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee. The 45-foot canopied craft, which could carry about 60 passengers, offered 12 miles of sightseeing on a 40-minute ride.

This painting of the Maxinkuckee boat by M. G. White hangs in the temporary library and will be moved to the History Room of the renovated library(photo courtesy of Scott Pletka - head librarian)

What Were You Doing?

After the terrorists’ attacks on September 11, 2001 and, if you were old enough, after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, it was not unusual to be asked: “Where were you?” or “What were you doing?”

Here’s another one: “Where were you in 1929, when the stock market crashed and anguished financiers jumped out of skyscraper windows?” If you weren’t born about 71 years ago, you have a ready-made excuse. That was the year the Maxinkuckee boat was built, although other records indicate 1926. At any rate, it’s safe to say that the boat was the product of the Great Depression.

Years later, about 1965, Eddie Amond, the captain’s son, met the shipbuilder who had copied the design from a World War 1 subchaser and manufactured the main superstructure from an ancient wooden water tower, which had once served the city of Rochester, Indiana.

Mr. Fuller, the original owner, christened it “The Red Wing” and gave leisurely rides on Lake Manitou for 25 cents. After 12 years or so, Arthur Simpson bought the boat, moved it to Lake Maxinkuckee, and renamed it after the lake. For three years, with E.A. Thessin as the second Culver owner, the Maxinkuckee provided tours.

In 1941, two months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and sank some of our ships, Frank Amond bought his own ship, the Maxinkuckee, and added her to his fleet of rental boats. For the next 38 summers, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Captain Amond with the help of his wife Emma, who manned the ticket booth in the town park, hauled over a million visitors, among them such dignitaries as movie stars, the President of Mexico, a Cuban Dictator, and the U.S. Postmaster General. During their younger years, Eddie and Joanne took part in the family operation.

When Captain Amond retired and sold the Maxinkuckee in 1976, he didn’t know that he was sentencing his cruiser to a violent death by chain saws and torches at the hands of an Evil Landlady.

Frank Comes to Culver

Frank Amond spent his early years in Ilion, New York, where his father worked for the Remington Arms Company, and when old enough, he began a sales career with the Kresge Department Store in his hometown, later receiving promotions that moved him to Philadelphia, Washington, Perth Amboy, N.J., Cambridge, Ohio, and Connersville, Indiana. By that time, anchored to Emma and with two children, he began searching for a way to increase his income from an independent business venture.

While traveling back from Alton, Illinois, where a deal on a hotel had fallen through, he remembers that a friend, also employed at Kresge, had often talked about his exciting experiences as a student at the Culver Military Academy and the splendid location. Frank turned off the main road in Plymouth, followed signs to Culver, and when he saw the lake, he immediately made up his mind to move his family to Culver. With the financial backing of Will Osborn, he bought the local dime store and installed Emma as the manger. She ran a tight ship, so as to speak, keeping her teenage clerks honest by sewing shut their pockets.

After a few years, he sold the store to Bob Taylor so that he could spend more time building up his fleet of rental boats: five speedboats, a cabin cruiser, three sailboats, three “u-drive-it” boats, 36 rowboats, some of them purchased from Don Behmer’s Culver Boat Service and from Rex Mawhorter. Racing around the lake like a bat out of hell, Emma had a reputation for being the best driver in Culver. On October 1, 1941, the addition of a cruiser with an inboard diesel engine – the Maxinkuckee boat – would take Captain Amond and hundreds of visitors on nearly forty-years of enjoyable sightseeing.

Too old for service during World War II, he spent the winter months as traffic manager at an electronic factory in Plymouth. Ever at his side, Emma worked on the assembly line. During those years, he gradually reduced his fleet until he was down to the Maxinkuckee cruiser.

Often stories about Frank and his excursion boat appeared in newspapers and magazines. A good source of tidbits can be found in The Culver Citizen’s “Nostalgia,” a collection of past events served up for many years by Virginia Bair, who often gave the items her special puckish touch. One of them was entitled “Captain Happy at ‘his’ Lake Maxinkuckee.” In keeping with the image of the crusty seagoing captain, Frank was not exactly a candidate to model Smiley faces.

He must have possessed a chameleon personality, for there are those old-timers who remember a jolly, happy-go-lucky fellow, someone who hosted boat parties on the lake in the middle of the night. They say that the usual dyspeptic outlook gave way to some funny schmoozing in the moonlight. When pressed for details, they just smile slyly and speak no evil.

In his later years (after a medical procedure had foreclosed on the consumption of beer) he crossed the street from his apartment about eight in the evening, took his reserved stool at the bar of the Corner Tavern, ordered a cup of coffee, chain-smoked, and read the house newspaper. One of the owners was a bit on the grouchy side and sometimes muttered under his breath about running a coffee shop. By the time Frank reached the sports section, he needed another free refill. The Grumpy Hours at the Corner ended when Frank made a one-way voyage to the next world on July 31, 1983.

Indiana's most scenic boat ride on the state's second largest lake brings you close to the world famous Culver Military and Naval Academy and provides views of palatial estates. Sailing hourly seven days a week. For further information, see Capt. Frank Amond at the Culver City Park or write 802 Lake Shore Drive. Copyright, 1958.

Cruising with Captain Amond

Often with his Toto look-alike standing on the bow and yapping at passing watercraft, Captain Amond took great pride in showing off the wonders of the lake and delivering his spiel to the passengers sitting on hard wooden benches. As the boat circled out of Aubenaubee Bay, youngsters ran along the shoreline, shouted greetings and waved to the passengers, most of whom enjoyed waving back. With safety-first on his mind, the captain had to concentrate on piloting the boat. He was too busy avoiding concealed rocks to ring the bell to greet his loyal band of wavers, who tried to keep up on their chubby legs.

“On a number of hot summer afternoons, the Maxinkuckee has safely carried up to 5,000 visitors,” writes a Starke County reporter, who must have been the victim of fuzzy math or Virginia Bair’s quirky sense of humor. Frank’s safety record was impeccable, except for two incidents. One of them is described in the fall-2001 edition of “The Antiquarian & Historical Newsletter,” mainly devoted to the Maxinkuckee Playhouse. A load of tipsy conventioneers was transported by the Maxinkuckee boat from the Culver Inn to a new pier near the playhouse. When they all piled out of the boat, the pier collapsed and dumped the loaded cargo into the water. All survived this unexpected bath, a sobering experience, indeed.

There are at least two versions of a second near tragedy. Although uncertain about the exact year, Mary Harris, the office secretary of the town library, remembers a sudden storm racing across the lake and driving the boat into the pier owned by Dr. K. K. Kraning, where the passengers found shelter in a boathouse. Eddie Amond believes that the close call took place after his father had sold the boat and since children were onboard, may have helped to encourage the new owners to put her up for sale.

Shipwreck

Phil Scruggs and Mark Naylor bought the boat in 1976 and ran her for one summer. Other obligations forced them to abandon the boat on the shore near the Beach Lodge, where the rotting process began. They tried to sell her. They tried to donate her to the town, but the Park Board found the cost of renovations prohibitive. Then they tried to give her away. No luck, until April 28, 1979, when a group from Syracuse paid a dollar for her. 

From Lake Manitou to Lake Maxinkuckee and next to Lake Wawasee

But wait! Avast! It never reached the waters of Lake Wawasee. Twenty-two Syracuse boat-leggers with David Scheidt and Jan Appenzeller as the pirate leaders collected all of their spare change, took it to Culver, and paid one dollar ($1.00) for the Maxinkuckee boat. They loaded it on a ’78 Jimmy and drove it 30 mph along US 30. Since there was too much weight on the tongue, part of the trailer and boat dragged on the road, causing the rotting vessel to shed nails like dandruff off Chewbacca.

When they stopped along the way to examine the disintegrating boat, they had a sinking feeling that they had a lemon on their hands, that they hadn’t got their money’s worth. Instead of taking her to the lake, they dry-docked her at the corner of Appenzeller’s lawn, 11739 N. SR. 13, on the south edge of Syracuse. As the amount of money that it would take to renovate the boat seeped in and as they gradually realized the decaying carcass could not be revived, enthusiasm waned and plans fell by the wayside.

The once proud Maxinkuckee stayed in the same location for the next fifteen years. But even as she was eaten away by maggots and other insects, she continued to serve tourists as a landmark, a source for area residents to provide directions. Culver residents may have felt some twinges of regret over the loss of their beloved boat, but at the same time, parents were relieved that their children would no longer injure themselves playing on the boat.

If Mr. Appenzeller had remained single, the boat might still be on his lawn. Scuttlebutt had it that his bride-to-be married him because, unlike other men who might have a rowboat or a dinky dory, he was a real he-man with a massive cruiser on display. That gossip was faulty. As the years passed, it dawned on him that his wife Pat didn’t tie the knot so that she could watch the boat rotting away on their lawn. Pat calls herself the “Evil Landlady” (her self-imposed epithet shows a keen sense of humor) and after some years of agitation, early fall of 1996, her husband caved in.

How did she get rid of the boat? “The evil lady took an ax and gave the cruiser forty whacks.” Actually, she threw a shipwreck party, invited about a dozen men and their spouses to come with chain saws, axes and torches, and while they smashed the boat in pieces, she served appetizers and liquid refreshments. When one woman expressed sadness at the demise of the boat, the Evil Landlady caused merriment by saying: “I don’t think it’s sad at all, but if you do take it away.”

Even in a state of deterioration, the boat did not go gentle into that good night. In the words of a reporter at the scene: “Ghosts of the Maxinkuckee evidently instructed some bees and other insects to exercise their wrath on those doing the dismantling by stinging the exterminators. Bob McNary was stung twice as he attempted to rip boards from the starboard side.”

Bob McNary, once a midshipman at the Culver Naval School, had memories of his mother coming to visit and the two of them taking trips on the Maxinkuckee. Perhaps the bee stinging was punishment by the Furies, the Greek mythological spirits of retributive justice that deal out terrible punishment usually reserved for someone like Orestes (a mother murderer) or Osama bin Laden (a mass murderer), but too vindictive for the partying boat hackers.

At last the remains of the Maxinkuckee were set afire behind the barn. The way was now clear for an antique shop. If you stop by, don’t expect to find any “evil” bargains like Egyptian mummies, flying broomsticks, or haunted shipwreck souvenirs. Just silver, lighting, and decorative stuff.

This may be hard to believe, but after all the destruction and the burning, two parts of the boat made their way back to the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee. Seth Becker rescued the board with the nameplate on it. To get the board on his truck, he had to cut it in two pieces so that it reads MAXIN/KUCKEE. Those two pieces were used to set the scene for the shipwreck theme at last summer’s July Yacht Club party, 2001.

Culverites who admired the boat would probably empathize with the Syracuse lady’s bewailing the savage smashing of the once-dignified cruiser. The two slabs of wood, sad remnants of glorious summer days, may remind residents of the time when they watched the boat circling the lake. As the circles grew tighter, soon the skipper and then the boat disappeared in time’s whirlpool, along with the spectators, leaving behind two slabs and warm memories of an excursion boat on the blue waters.

Invitation to Lake Wawasee Vandals

GREETINGS: You have been identified as a culprit who abandoned a derelict vessel on my property. You are hereby ordered to appear on August 24, 1996 with your most destructive tools and engage in a boat smashing party.

Signed: The Evil Landlady, who is committed to destroying history, while serving beer and other delicacies.

DEATH OF A LANDMARK: Jan Appenzeller, the Evil Lady's husband, is caught in the act of cutting the name from the bow of Culver's favorite touring cruiser.