Earl Townsend, Jr. was born on Nov. 9, 1914, on the east side of Indianapolis. At that time, East Indianapolis was farmland and the Townsend family farm was located at 21st St. and Post Road. Earl's grandfather owned a large butcher shop consisting of ten buildings, and their cattle were driven overland from Cincinnati. His grandfather also owned a glass and gas factory in Greenfield. They employed about one hundred men in the manufacture of whiskey bottles in association with Ball Brothers in Muncie.
One of Earl's fondest childhood memories was meeting James Whitcomb Riley. When Earl was about three years old, the Interurban would stop in front of his house, and it was here that Earl would wait for his grandfather. One day James Whitcomb Riley was with his grandfather, and Earl ended up riding on the Hoosier Poet's knee from Indianapolis to Greenfield.
When he was ten or eleven years old, Earl found his first artifact, a point, while working in the fields of the family farm. He eventually found a box full of points, which he would take with him when he visited his grandmother in Michigan. She would throw the stones in a catch basin, and before returning home, he would fish them out again. It was at this early age that he learned from his father to love and respect artifacts, a love which would exist for the rest of his life.
In high school, Earl and his younger brother John played basketball for Indianapolis Tech. With each being six foot four inches tall, they were two of the premier "Big Men" in the state. They made it to the state finals in 1931, losing to Frankfort in the final game, and were runners-up again in 1932 to Logansport during Earl's senior year. After high school, Earl went to DePauw until his brother graduated from high school the following year. Then they both enrolled in Michigan University where they received scholarships for their undergraduate studies, as well as law school.
Earl was destined to become a lawyer from an early age. When he was five years old, he expressed to his mother his desire to become a train engineer. In no uncertain terms, he was informed that he was to become a lawyer, and this decision was not to be questioned. It was a lawyer he would become.
At Michigan he played basketball and finished second and third to I.U. and Purdue in the Big Ten. While playing ball, he also maintained an A-average, a feat that earned him recognition in the Detroit Free Press. It seems student athletes were as much a rarity in the 1930s as they are today. Besides law, Earl also studied archaeology at Michigan for two years under Dr. Alfred Guthe, who had conducted excavations at Teotihuacan in Mexico. Dr. Guthe would further stimulate Earl's interest in archaeology and serve as an inspiration to Earl in his later endeavors.
Earl also belonged to Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, and his roommate was past United States President, and then Michigan football star, Gerald Ford. Earl, John, and Gerald Ford worked in the cafeteria and were known in the fraternity as "the three dishwashers." To earn extra money, he and John would sweep the stadium and wait tables in the student union. After their work was done, they dined on whatever food was left over, a lifestyle that is hard to imagine for our present day, super sport prima donnas. Since this was during the depression, the extra money they earned was sent home to their parents, a sum of $2.50 per week.
As a diversion to the doldrums of college life, Earl and Gerald Ford would take the Twilight Limited Train to Chicago where they would enjoy listening to Wayne King at the Arigan Ballroom. It was here that he met Al Capone and Frank Nitti and would later help several of their associates set up a restaurant in Indianapolis. Earl used to play baseball with John Dillinger, who also went to Indianapolis Tech, in Spades Park, and got Lefty Parker, Dillinger's partner, a job as truck driver after he got out of prison.
During the summer, Earl and John worked on the railroad loading beef hides on rail cars. They reeked so terribly of putrid beef that the streetcar conductor would not allow them to sit with the rest of the passengers; they had to ride outside hanging onto the back of the car. Later, with the help of Harry Bennett, Earl and John would work at the Ford Plant in Indianapolis; John made brake shoes, and Earl painted white lines on the floor.
After graduation from law school in 1939, Earl set up practice in Indianapolis and grossed the handsome sum of three hundred and seventeen dollars his first year. He made six-fifty the second year; twelve hundred the third; twenty-four hundred the fourth; and five thousand the fifth year. He also served as deputy prosecutor in the late thirties and early forties.
When Earl was thirty-two, he met Emily Macnab, a southern belle from Kentucky. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She was a graduate of the University of Kentucky and was the employment manager of W.H. Block. They were both active in the civic theater, and Earl fell in love the first time he saw her, a love he has never relinquished. They acted together in "The Male Animal," "The Philadelphia Story," and she was the leading lady in "Laura." Besides her beauty, he was amazed that she could stand on the stage for three hours without being prompted and never miss a line.
He was equally amazed at her inability to spell. She once wrote him a note calling him her "knight in shinning armor." If he had to be out of town on their anniversary, he would send her a dozen roses and sign it "Your knight in shinning armor." He became more than a little irate when a well-meaning florist corrected the spelling.
After dating for about a year, they were married in Bloomington in 1947 and bought a house near his parents on the east side. In 1954 they moved to North Meridian Street, where Earl still resides. They were to have five children: Starr, named for Starr King, author of religious educational material which Earl used in teaching his Sunday school class; Vicki, for Vicki Lester, a movie star; Julie, after an attorney's wife and friend who helped him through college; Earl III; and Clyde. They have thirteen grandchildren.
After meeting Emily, Earl says he stopped "chasing women and started chasing rocks again." Until Eli Lilly introduced him to Prehistoric Antiquities, he did not realize that such a thing as a birdstone even existed. After some tribulation, he was able to acquire five birds of which he was very proud. His mother-in-law, sensing a competition between his admiration for birds and admiration for her daughter, offered to buy all five birds for $275. She then loaded them in the trunk of her Plymouth coupe and dumped them in the Ohio River on her return to Kentucky.
Earl's father, on the other hand, shared his son's enthusiasm and began making trips along the Ohio River, buying artifacts from farmers and collectors whenever possible. On a good day, he could travel all the way to Evansville, where he would visit with Chalmer Lynch and make it back to Indianapolis by that evening.
One of Earl's more interesting acquisitions came from Stanley Hadley. Mr. Hadley owned a fine fantail bird, which he intended to keep and could not be persuaded to the contrary. Finally, Earl offered him fifty dollars to lease the bird for one year. At the end of the year, the bird was returned, but Mr. Hadley decided he would rather keep the money, so Earl returned home with the bird, where it still resides today.
Without hesitation, Earl's favorite artifact is "Old Ringneck," no doubt the most prestigious relic in existence. It was found in 1939 by a ditcher and was purchased by a Dr. Carrie for $50. He would later sell it to Dr. Bunch for $100. After Dr. Bunch died, Joe Geringer, who was helping with the Bunch estate, offered Ringneck to Earl for $350. Earl turned him down, and the bird was placed in the Bunch sale and was purchased by Frank Burdette for $500. Earl bought the bird from Frank Burdette two years later in 1951 for $1,100.
Among his many achievements, Earl was the first T.V. announcer for the Indianapolis 500 in 1949 and again in 1950. He and Emily followed the race circuit until too many of his friends and drivers were killed, and racing became too difficult to endure. He was also a Big Ten official between 1941 and 1951 and refereed games at the University of Kentucky. He is also a Thirty-Three Degree Mason.
Earl was the first president of the Indiana Archaeological Society and hosted several meetings in Indianapolis. He is a founding member of the Genuine Indian Relic Society, which was formed in his living room with seven or eight members. To the collecting fraternity and the student of archaeology, Earl Townsend will most be remembered for his outstanding collection of birdstones and his book, Birdstones of the North American Indian. Professor James B. Griffin of Michigan criticized Earl for owning so many
birds, saying that they should be in a museum, but he praised his book as a work that will be remembered for all to appreciate. Earl worked for five years on the book, spending all of his free time, weekends, and vacations putting the book together. If the book were to be written today, it would be titled Birdstones of Prehistoric Man of North America, since birds are much older than previously thought and not the product of contemporary Indians.
Until Earl started his book, he did not realize that there were so many fakes in existence. He discovered several "Guffy" birds in prominent bird collections and has witnessed an increase of fakes over the years. Unfortunately, like most of us he sees no end to the problem.
Emily died ten years ago from cancer, and Earl has had several health problems. Part of his stomach had to be removed because of ulcers, and a blood clot was removed from his brain. He has had blood clots in his legs and a hernia repair.
Earl is the oldest practicing lawyer in Indiana and still puts in a full week. On his eighty-first birthday he tried seven cases, and on his eighty-third birthday he tried five. He is in bed every night by ten o'clock and is up at six. After a hard week at work, though, it takes him longer to recuperate than it used to. But with the help of his daughters, he has been able to maintain an active and independent lifestyle.
He spends his summers at Higgins Lake in Michigan, where he likes to fish and spend time in the woods. Whenever he stops at a rest park, he still gets out and looks for points. At home he spends most of his time in his relic room, even taking his meals in his favorite chair in front of his birds.
Large full-grooved axe. It is 7 5/8 inches long 6 1/2 inches wide and tapers to a 2 inch bit. Found by Ron Franz near the town of Hoover, Indiana many years ago. From the collection of Pat and Gerry Mooney.