One of Indianapolis’s most treasured traditions began on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1947, some 61 years ago. That night marked the first appearance of a bronze sculptured cherub, perched atop a clock mounted on the outside of the L.S. Ayres Building in the heart of the city, at 1 West Washington, on the corner of Washington and Meridian streets.
Watching Over a War-Weary City
The 36-inch-tall cherub was said to stand guard over holiday shoppers from Thanksgiving until Santa took over on Christmas Eve. The idea warmed the hearts of post-war shoppers of the mid-1940s, and thus began a tradition that has had downtown shoppers on the lookout for the cherub every holiday season since. The angel baby arrives without pomp and circumstance, unseen when the sun sets at night but in full view the following morning.The Angel Baby’s Beginnings/h3]
The cherub was initially the creation of Virginia Holmes, a commercial artist employed by Ayres’ advertising department after World War II. Given that factories had been devoting their efforts to the war, the production of general merchandise was scarce, a fact that was reflected in the department store’s holiday catalog of 1946 — until Holmes came up with the idea of filling the blank space with sketches of cherubs. Positive customer response to the little angels promoted a return visit of the cherubs in the holiday catalog the following year, which just happened to coincide with the store’s 75th anniversary. As part of the celebration, Ayres commissioned David Rubins, an Indianapolis sculptor and an instructor at the Herron School of Art, to create a bronze rendering of the cherub to adorn its outdoor clock.
A Legend Nearly Lost
The tradition of the cherub siting appeared to be in jeopardy in 1992, when the May Department Store Company, which had purchased L. S. Ayres in 1986, decided to move the cherub to May's headquarters in St. Louis. The people of Indianapolis were disheartened, and ultimately, the May Company yielded to public pressure, returning the cherub to its Indianapolis home in 1994.
See for Yourself
So the next time you find yourself on Monument Circle this holiday season, whether to shop, dine, or sightsee, look up at the corner of Washington and Meridian, and take comfort in the fact that Indy's cherub continues to keep its vigil.