News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 2, 2013

Historical Society coughs up a big welcome for 2013

Valley residents ring in new year at Stiffy Green Fur Ball

TERRE HAUTE — The ghostly “Stiffy Green,” the famous Terre Haute hound reputed to walk late at night alongside his departed master through Highland Lawn Cemetery, broke from his usual routine New Year’s Eve to welcome 2013 by hosting a big party in the Ohio Building downtown.

The spooky bulldog with green eyes made of glass wore a big hat reading “Happy New Year” as guests of the party checked in with Marylee Hagan, executive director of the Vigo County Historical Society’s museum. The Society hosted the event, known as the Stiffy Green Fur Ball.

Bands played live music on two floors of the spacious Ohio Building near Seventh and Ohio streets as a crowd of nearly 150 guests celebrated the end of one year and the start of a new one.

Stiffy Green is a huge part of local folklore and Monday night’s party, a fundraiser for the Historical Society, was a way to celebrate that, said Gary Greiner, president of the Historical Society board. Ken Warner, a former board president, came up with idea, he noted.

“I think this is going to grow and grow,” Greiner said of the event, now in its first year.

The “Fur Ball” is one of the few big semi-formal New Year’s Eve parties in the city. It is in the same venue as the New Year’s Eve party hosted until recently by Junior Achievement, another not-for-profit organization.

Funds raised through the event will benefit the Historical Society, which is set to move from its long-time location on South Sixth Street to the Glidden Furniture building at 929 Wabash Avenue. Society officials say they hope the move will take place before next year’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. Money raised by Monday night’s party will help kick off a capital campaign slated for the spring to help pay for the move, Greiner said.

Guests at the Fur Ball were invited to have their pictures taken with “Stiffy Green.” The dog is actually a ceramic porch ornament from the home of the late John Heinl, whose family mausoleum featured the dog inside for many years. Vandals damaged the famous figure in the 1980s by shooting a bullet through a mausoleum window and striking one of the dog’s eyes. After that, the Heinl family asked the museum to care for “Stiffy Green,” Hagan explained.

Many people believe the ceramic figure, which is normally on display in the basement of the Historical Society, is a stuffed, once-living dog. But it’s not.

That has not stopped the story of Stiffy Green from becoming one of Terre Haute’s best-known folk tales. A number of websites and books feature the legend in all its spine-chilling glory.  

Of course, the Historical Society is about much more than “Stiffy Green.”

“If you like history, you can’t help but love Terre Haute,” said Dave Frisse, a Historical Society vice president whose band was performing classic rock, jazz and blues Monday night. “Everywhere you turn, there’s something interesting,” he said.

Music was also provided at the “Fur Ball” by Marshall Rector and Easy Street, which played New Orleans and big band jazz.

The event was catered by the Saratoga and Rick’s Smoke House.

The Fur Ball, at which many people were formally dressed while others were more casual, featured a toast at midnight to welcome the new year, something the Historical Society hopes will continue long into the future.

“This will be one of our annual things,” Hagan said as she greeted guests. “Hopefully, people will continue to support this for many years to come.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com

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