Crossroads of America40.028952, -86.047864

Kurt Vonnegut

In his novel Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut recollects a childhood memory of standing at the “Crossroads of America” under the large bronze clock designed by his grandfather.

Author

Kurt Vonnegut
b. 1922 – d. 2007

Literary Inspiration

Breakfast of Champions

Published 1973

Location

Intersection of Meridian Street and Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204

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Excerpts

From

Breakfast of Champions


Kurt Vonnegut

As for the suspicion I express in this book, that human beings are robots, are machines: It should be noted that people, mostly men, suffering from the last stages of syphilis, from locomotor ataxia, were common spectacles in downtown Indianapolis and circus crowds when I was a boy.

Those people were infested with carnivorous little corkscrews which could be seen only with a microscope. The victims’ vertebrae were welded together after the corkscrews got through with the meat between. The syphilitics seemed tremendously dignified—erect eyes straight ahead.

I saw one stand on a curb at the corner of Meridian and Washington Streets one time, underneath an overhanging clock which my father designed. The intersection was known locally as the “Crossroads of America”.

This syphilitic man was thinking hard there, at the Crossroads of America, about how to get his legs to step off the curb and carry him across Washington Street. He shuddered gently, as though he had a small motor which was idling inside. Here was his problem: his brains, where the instructions to his legs originated, were being eaten alive by corkscrews. The wires which had to carry the instructions weren’t insulated anymore or were eaten clear through. Switches along the way were welded open or shut.

This man looked like an old, old man, although he might have been only thirty years old. He thought and thought. And then he kicked two times like a chorus girl.

He certainly looked like a machine to me when I was a boy.

Notes

The L. S. Ayres department store on the corner of Meridian and Washington Streets was designed by Arthur Bohn and Bernard Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut’s grandfather, in 1905. Three decades later, Ayres commissioned Bohn and Kurt Vonnegut Sr., Kurt’s father, to design the bronze clock, a local icon, which perches 29 feet overhead.

Through the study of Vonnegut, you learn how to “make your soul grow.” Vonnegut was a soldier, writer, father, artist, lover of jazz, and voice for multiple generations who believed in free speech and common decency. His legacy is felt in Indianapolis and around the world.

—Julia Whitehead, President
Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis to a prominent German-American family. He is best known for his novels that combine science fiction, satire and dark humor such as Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana’s own Eugene V. Debs) and was a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Dig
Deeper

Indianapolis is a place that inspires creativity. This is one of a dozen original pieces of visual and performing art created by Hoosier artists inspired by Bookmark Indy authors.

 

Xin Ying

Dancer
Xin’s Instagram

Influenced by Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions description of a syphilitic man he witnessed at the Crossroads of America beneath the clock his father designed, dancer Xin Ying’s improvisational dance captures the robotic, glitchy and uncontrollable body language of humans as machines. 

CROSSROADS OF AMERICA

Intersection of Meridian Street and Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204

 

Closest IndyGo Stops:

Carson Transit Center

Washington Street & Illinois Street (Routes 8 & 24)

 

How to Plan a Trip on IndyGo:  

  • Use the Trip Planner on IndyGo.net 
  • Use Google Maps (select “transit” as your travel method) 
  • Call IndyGo Customer Service at 317-635-3344 
  • Track your bus using the MyStop Mobile App 
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Kurt Vonnegut in Indianapolis Tour

May 26, 2021 | 6:00-7:30 p.m. | 1 West Washington Street

Lace up your walking shoes and learn about Indianapolis sites associated with the Vonnegut family. Chris Lafave, curator at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, will meet you underneath the Ayres clock (designed by Kurt’s father) and guide you through downtown, telling you about the history of the Vonnegut family and their impact on the city. You’ll end up at the Athenaeum (designed by Kurt’s grandfather), where you can purchase drinks and food at the Biergarten. Note that the guided tour is one way only (it does not return to the Ayres clock) and is approximately .8 miles long. Masks required.

Registration required: https://vonneguttour.eventbrite.com

Partner: Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

 

Learn more about Kurt Vonnegut at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library.

Report Back.

Read the location passage. What questions would you ask the author? What would help you understand the author's viewpoint?

Added TEXTure.

Writing is about more than just words. Look around to discover what textures are most prevalent in this place. Do a texture rubbing using a piece of paper and a crayon or pencil.

In the Margins.

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Found sound.

Walk around the location and record the sounds of surroundings. Did what you hear depend on what time you visited?

Backward / Forward.

Cities change—what did your location look like in 1920? What will it look like in 2120?

Footnotes.

Find another perspective by walking to a different spot around this location. Do you notice anything new? Which of your five senses notices a change first?

Strike a Prose.

Write a short passage describing how this place inspires you.

Love Letter / BreakUp Letter.

Think about your relationship with the place you’re visiting or perhaps with your own neighborhood. Is it time to commit? Or time to let go? Write a letter as if you’re speaking directly to the place you have in mind.

Field Notes.

Explore your stream of consciousness by writing down every thought that enters your mind.