Dr. Dipa Sarkar, Historian Emerita

Dipa Sarkar, M.D., was born in a small village outside of Calcutta (Kolkata), India in 1931. She completed her undergraduate studies at Bethune College, Calcutta and finished her medical degree at the Calcutta Medical College. She began her career as a doctor as a gynecologist delivering more than 600 babies. After her marriage to Anil K. Sarkar, M.D., she changed her practice to pathology, specializing in cancer research.

Dr. Sarkar and her husband, Dr. Anil Sarkar, finished their residency in pathology in the United States, and moved to Terre Haute, Indiana in 1969. Dr. Dipa Sarkar worked as a pathologist in Union Hospital and in Clay County and Sullivan Hospitals. While working, she also taught medical and medical technology students at Indiana State University. She helped establish the Planned Parenthood clinic in Terre Haute. She retired from medical practice in 1990.

Working for the people and helping those in need became Dr. Dipa Sarkar’s passion after retirement. She was the First President of India Association of Terre Haute, and served as a volunteer and as a board member with Life Line, CODA (Council on Domestic Abuse), the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Swope Art Museum, the Vigo County Public Library, (where she taught English to foreign students) and with Catholic Charities (where she worked as a volunteer in the soup kitchen and taught the children about cleanliness and nutrition.)

Dr. Dipa Sarkar received a letter of appreciation for her work from President Bill Clinton in 1996. She was also awarded the first Aspire Higher Award given by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in recognition of her dedication to volunteer work. Dr. Dipa Sarkar has one daughter, Rumu Sarkar, PhD, a lawyer in Washington D. C.

As a volunteer for the Vigo County Historical Museum, Dr. Dipa Sarkar wrote many biographical articles of important people of the Terre Haute area and other articles of general interest that were published in the local newspaper, the Terre Haute Tribune Star.

Arts Illiana

Sherri Wright contributed several articles to Spectrum (issues 34 and 35 respectively) detailing 200 years of “Historic Hautians” for Indiana’s Bicentennial. This grouping of biographies features prominent citizens of Terre Haute’s past as well as lesser known names who left a large footprint on Terre Haute’s, and the Wabash Valley’s, history. Spectrum is a quarterly publication published by Arts Illiana: the Arts Council of the Wabash Valley.

Digital Collections

Steeg, Henry C. (5/01/1857-11/29/1911)

Mayor Henry C. Steeg brought beauty to Terre Haute

Henry C. Steeg, mayor of Terre Haute from 1898 to September of 1904, was the son of German immigrants.

His father worked in the stone quarries in Putnam County. Born in 1857, Henry had three brothers and two sisters.

He studied at common schools and Roanoke College in Salem, Va. After finishing college he worked at his father’s lime manufacturing company and took over operations after his father’s death. Steeg married Anne Marsh, also of German ancestry, and had four sons and one daughter.

Steeg constructed the first stone pike roads in Putnam County in 1882. He moved to Terre Haute in 1885 to work as a general contractor and bridge builder. He founded a firm called Reidman and Steeg in 1887 and became its vice president. He also served as the president of People’s Brewing Co.

Steeg was a very active member of many notable organizations and clubs including the Elks, Eagles, Masonry, Businessman’s, German’s, and Red Men’s clubs. He was elected city councilman in 1888 and in 1898 he became mayor of Terre Haute, serving until September, 1904.

As mayor, Steeg was considered very effective and brought about many improvements. One of his great contributions to the city was the acquisition of land at the junction of Wabash Avenue and 14th Street to build a city park.

This beautiful park on the busy national highway was appreciated not only by local residents but by the people traveling across the nation who sometimes stopped to rest there. The park was named Steeg Park in the mayor’s honor but the name was later changed to Gilbert Park.

From a very humble beginning, Steed succeeded in his personal and public life. By his distinct, and dedicated service to the people, he earned their love and respect and left a mark in the history of Terre Haute.

A framed photograph of Mayor Henry Steeg is part of the Vigo County Historical Museum’s “Celebrate the Century"exhibit chronicling Terre Haute’s past 100 years.

Surratt, Valeska (6/28/1882-7/02/1962)

Eugene V. Debs: Father of industrial unionism

By Sherri Wright

Valeska Suratt was born in Owensville, Indiana and at the age of six, her family moved to Terre Haute. She had one stepsister, one older brother and a younger sister. She dropped out of school in 1899 and worked at a photographer’s studio. Suratt later moved to Indianapolis where she worked as an assistant in millinery at Block’s department store in Indianapolis.

Suratt began her career as an actress on the Chicago stage. Around 1900, she began appearing in vaudeville. She soon paired with performer Billy Gould (whom she later married) and the two created a successful act. In 1906, she made her Broadway debut in the musical The Belle of Mayfair. By 1907, Suratt and Gould had parted ways and Suratt began a successful solo act which featured her singing and dancing. Suratt’s success in vaudeville continued and she began billing herself as “Vaudeville’s Greatest Star” and “The Biggest Drawing Card in New York.”

During her years on the stage, Valeska was noted for the high fashion clothes she wore on stage and her name became synonymous with lavish gowns worldwide. She was sometimes called the “Empress of Fashions.” She possible was another model for the famous Gibson Girl sketchings. Vogue magazine later named her “one of the best dressed women on the stage.”

In 1915, Suratt signed with Fox. Like fellow Fox tonract players Theda Bara and Virginia Pearson, Suratt was marketed as a “vamp” and was cast as seductive and exotic characters. Suratt made her film debut in The Soul of Broadway in 1915. She made a total of eleven silent films during her career.

By 1920, Suratt’s career had begun to wane as the opularity of vaudeville fell out of a favor with audiences as did the vamp image craze. In 1928, Suratt and scholar Mirza Ahmad Sohrab sued Cecil B. DeMille for stealing the scenario for The King of Kings from them. The case went to trial in February 1930 but eventually settled without publicity. Suratt, who had left films in 1917, appeared to be unofficially blacklisted after the suit.

By the end of the 1920s, Suratt disappeared. In the 1930s, she was discovered living in a cheap hotel in New York City and was broke. In an attempt to revive her career, Suratt tried to sell her life story to one of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers. A reporter who read Suratt’s manuscript later said that Suratt wrote that she was the Virgin Mary and was the mother of God. Suratt never revived her career on the stage or in films and fell out of public view. Valeska Suratt died in a nursing home in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1962. She was 80 years old. Suratt is interred in Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Thompson, Col. Richard (6/09/1809-2/09/1900)

Photos capture moments in life of Col. Thompson

By Dr. Dipa Sarkar

Special to the Tribune-Star

Col. Richard W. Thompson was born in Virginia on June 9, 1809. He was of Scot-Irish origin, and both his grandparents served in the War of Independence. His mother died when he was 10, and his father remarried a grandniece of George Washington.

At age 20 he left home and came to Indiana. After founding and teaching at Lawrence Seminary, he acquired a law library, studied law for three years, was admitted to the Bar in 1834 and set up his law practice and residence in Terre Haute. On May 5, 1836, he married Harriet Gardiner of Columbus, Ohio, who bore him eight children.

Thompson was a born orator and wrote brilliantly. He was elected a Whig in the Indiana Legislature, re-elected in 1835 and 1836, and then went on to serve in the State Senate. He served as Lt. Governor and was elected to Congress in 1841. He held the commission of Captain and was a judge in the Circuit Court. He was bestowed the titled of “Colonel” and was always referred to in this manner.

Col. Thompson befriended many powerful men of his time including Abraham Lincoln with whom he became very close. During the Civil War, he was appointed provost marshal in raising troops and at the end of the War, he served as Collector of Internal Revenue. In 1877 he was called to serve as Secretary of the Navy under President Hayes. He resigned from the Navy to take charge of the Panama Canal Co. He also served as a general counsel for the Vandelia Railroad Co. for 25 years.

Always an advocate for progress and education, Thompson served on the board of trustees of Indiana State Normal School (now Indiana State University) and Rose Polytechnique (Rose-Hulman of today).

He served his country, his state and Terre Haute with great dignity, honor and brilliance to the end of his life. After a brief illness, he died on Feb. 9, 1900, four just months before his 91st birthday. Several framed photographs of Col. Richard Thompson are a part of the Vigo County Historical Society collection.

Vigo, Francis (12/13/1747-3/22/1836)

Francis Vigo Early American Patriot

Colonel Francis Vigo (Joseph Maria Francesco Vigo) was born Dec. 3, 1747, at Mondovi, Sardinia. As a young man he enlisted in the Spanish army and was sent to Havana and later to New Orleans where he participated in the Spanish occupation of what later was to become the Louisiana Territory. After his discharge, he remained in America and became a trapper and fur trader, operating primarily in the Vincennes and St. Louis areas. During this time, he developed a good relationship with the Indians and understood them well. He prospered as both a trader and a merchant and became quite wealthy.

He rallied to the American cause and, after the recapture of Vincennes by the British, volunteered his services to General George Rogers Clark as a spy for the Americans, but he was captured by British-allied Indians. While captive he ate the paper (a letter given by Clark) which otherwise would have convicted him. Through the efforts of Father Gibault and Vincennes townspeople, Vigo was freed. He immediately set out for St. Louis and Kaskaskia, where he informed Clark that the British occupied Vincennes and how strong they were. At this time, Clark was short of funds and almost was unable to lead a campaign.

Immediately Vigo loaned him $11,000, which led to a successful campaign and freedom. But Vigo never was repaid in his lifetime. In his last will he made a request that if the government ever honored his claim, then $500 from his estate should be used to purchase a bell inscribed “presented by Francis Vigo” for hanging in the Vigo County Courthouse.

In 1887 the six foot high bell finally arrived with a $500 contribution from a relative of Vigo’s (T. C. Buntin) and $2,500 from the authorization of the Vigo County Commissioners. The bell hangs from the high tower of the courthouse and is declared by some as “the Liberty Bell of the Northwest territory.”

Vigo settled in Vincennes and in 1793 married Elizabeth Shannon, a sister of “Alice of Old Vincennes.” They had no children.

He was a prosperous fur trader and at one time became very rich, but unfortunately at the time of his death he was a poor man. He died in Vincennes on March 22, 1836, and was buried in the City Cemetery in Vincennes.

Indiana legislature conferred upon the county the name of Vigo (to be pronounced "vee-go”) in honor of Colonel Vigo, then a resident of Vincennes. The name was approved Jan. 21, 1918.

Vigo visited Vigo County for the last time on July 4, 1832.

High praise has been given to Colonel Francis Vigo for his bravery and assistance during the conquest of the Northwest Territory. A memorial statue of him by John Angel occupies a site overlooking the Wabash River in the Vincennes Memorial to George Rogers Clark.

A commemorative stamp and postcard were issued in honor of Francis Vigo on May 24, 1986.

There is a Francis Vigo American-Italian Club (organized in 1972) in Vigo County whose purpose is to help its members to have an appreciation of their heritage as descendants of immigrants and an awareness of their customs and culture. This club has contributed funds to replenish a room in honor of Francis Vigo in the Vigo County Historical Museum.

Wiedemann, Dr. Frank (6/29/1872-12/24/1961)

Looking inside the history of a medical device

Historical treasure: Dr. Frank Weidemann invented of X-ray machine

By Dr. Dipa Sarkar

Special to the Tribune-Star

Dr. Frank Wiedmann, prominent physician, surgeon, and student of worldwide religions, came to Terre Haute from St. Louis after graduating from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 1984. Widely acclaimed for his pioneering in the field of scientific equipment and their application in medical therapy, he pioneered the use of the X-ray machine in this country and took one of the first X-ray pictures.

He presented two X-ray units and electrical equipment to Rose Polytechnic Institute. He was also among the first to utilize the value of a normal salt solution for a patient at Union Hospital in 1895. In that same year, with the help of two other doctors, he performed the first successful Caesarian section in the state of Indiana. When he retired, after 63 years, he had practiced in his clinic at the Rose Dispensary Building, without missing one day. In 1953, he gave up his Sunday visits.

Wiedmann was a great scientist and traveled extensively all over the world. After visiting many countries, he took note of certain medical practices and brought that knowledge back to the United States, implementing those ideas in his practice. He also introduced music for the betterment of health, presenting a paper on the subject before the Indiana State Medical Society in 1903. His extensive travels led him to become aware of and teach the need for better nutrition.

Dedicated to medical services and humanity, Dr. Frank Wiedmann helped the progress of medicine with scientific knowledge and its application toward improving life and health for many people. He passed away in 1961. More information about the life of Wiedmann may be found in information files at the Vigo County historical Museum.

Wiley, William (12/28/1842-3/24/1907)

William Wiley left mark on Wabash Valley

By Dipa Sarkar

Special to the Tribune-Star

William H.Q. Wiley was born Dec.28 1842 in Rush County. In childhood, he suffered from “milk sickness,” which killed his brother. (The sickness came from a cow eating a kind of poisonous root that then passed on through its milk.) It caused him rather frail health and eventually rejection by the military service.

Much of Wiley’s childhood was spent in clearing the forest for the family farm. When he was 9 years old, he attended a school in Marion County. He worked on his father’s farm until he became 17 and then left to achieve higher education. He entered Butler College on Sept. 29, 1857 and obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1864. After receiving his master’s degree three years later, he took business courses at Commercial College of Bryant and Stratton, Indianapolis. That fall, he taught in the Stateline Academy at State Line City. In 1865, Wiley accepted a position at the Fourth District School in Terre Haute. Thus began a long and faithful service in the field of education.

William Wiley was a man of outstanding capability, a dedicated educator, leader and organizer. He was a man of futuristic ideas and vision. His abilities were recognized very early and in one year, he became a teacher at Terre Haute High School at Fourth and Mulberry Streets, which later became the high school bearing his name—Wiley High School at Seventh and Walnut streets.

When Wiley began teaching high school, the school had only 43 pupils and a few teachers. After serving as the principal for four years, he became superintendent of Terre Haute public schools. He began that position in 1869 and continued for 37 years until his retirement. At that time, he was elected a member of the School Board and served for many years.

Wiley has been called “the father of Terre Haute schools.” Many of his students became outstanding in their fields of endeavor. They were inspired to participate in debating competitions. During his administration, Terre Haute students won state and national awards in the 1874 Indiana Exposition and the 1876 Centennial Exposition. The whole community endorsed his efforts, liberally donating funds for the expenses.

Books were a central part of his life. Wiley was always involved in the library. He was “the moving spirit” in the development and expansion of the Emeline Fairbanks Memorial Library. The cupola of Wiley High School still stands in front of the public library honoring this great educator.

One of his great interests was the Terre Haute Literary Club. He wrote about 40 papers and only a few months before his death, he was still working on a paper to be read on April 25, 1927.

Wiley had been a member of the Vigo County Historical Society and remembered this organization in his will. His bequest was a silver sugar bowl, creamer, tea and coffee pot, which were formerly a property of Colonel Francis Vigo.

On Aug. 10, 1865, William Wiley married Eliza Brown and they had on son and daughter. His wife died on Aug. 2, 1916, and four years later, he married Sue Gfroerer, a kindergarten teacher. Wiley passed away on March 24, 1927. At his death, Terre Haute lost a great teacher, community leader, educator and visionary.

A framed photograph of William Wiley is included in the Historical Museum’s current exhibit, “Reflections, Vigo County High Schools as They Were.”

Wilson, Gilbert (3/04/1907-1/16/1991)

Wilson’s beliefs showed in murals

Gilbert Wilson with one of his creations

By Dipa Sarkar

Vigo County Historical Society

Gilbert Wilson was born in 1907 in a white frame house located at 1201 N. Fourth St., Terre Haute.

His mother, Martha, was an opera star and his father, Wilton Albert Wilson, was vice president of the First National Bank of Terre Haute. Gilbert’s love for his parents was expressed strongly when he dedicated his first mural at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School to them.

Wilson graduated from Garfield High School in 1925. While at McLean Junior high School, he became involved in the Boy Scout activities which he loved with a passion for the next 30 years.

He believed in the need for mankind to join in brotherhood and portrayed this vividly in one of his murals of four Scouts of red, yellow, black and white races with their arms around each other and their hands clasped together.

After high school, he attended Indiana State normal, where Dr. William Turman, his art teacher, became a driving force in his life. He then enrolled in the Chicago Art Institute where he won a first prize of $200 at the Chicago Hoosier Salon. He was introduced to muralist Eugene Savage who was impressed with the young artist and took his as his apprentice at Yale School of Fine Arts.

Financial problems caused him to return to Terre Haute. These difficulties were solved by millionaire C.W. Root, whose company invented the Coca-Cola bottle. He commissioned Wilson to do some murals at his indoor swimming pool and paid him $500.

He then was able to study in Mexico, with Mr. Rivera and later with the Spanish sculptor, Urbici Soler. During this period, he did two busts of Max Ehrman and a bust of the Dreiser Memorial.

At the age of 28, he returned to Terre Haute and painted murals on the walls of Woodrow Wilson Junior High School. It took one month to finish one wall, named “Machinery.” This mural represented the domination of the society by the “juggernaut” of the modern industrialization.

Gilbert then worked on the south wall were he painted such distinguished citizens of the community as Dr. Turman, George Krietenstein (founder of the local Boy Scouts), and Miss Dawson (his high school teacher).

After months of labor, his second mural, “Social Pattern,” was completed. There was controversy about the murals, the main objections being two inscriptions quoted from the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln.

Frustrated, he went back and added two more, on from Woodrow Wilson and the other he composed. Many praises followed, but he was most proud of a bag of coins totaling $28.35, collected by the students.

Murals that Gilbert Wilson did at Indiana University schools portrayed his hope for peace and brotherhood. Others were done at Antioch College, State High School and Community theatre in Terre Haute.

One of his great supporters was Mrs. Fannie Blumberg, also an artist. She gave him a studio and $2,000 a year to live on.

Wilson produced two films, one of which won an award at Cannes Film Festival. The movie was based on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” and was composed of about 300 drawings. He also made two sculpture plaques for Heldentenor Foundation named as “Tristan” and “Isolde.”

Wilson died Jan. 16, 1991, in Frankfort, Ky. His immortal murals remain at Woodrow Wilson, University School, and Talley Memorial Playhouse. He showed his generosity by donating “Moby Dick” paintings and the “Insanity Series” to the Swope Art Museum.