Renovating Vonnegut by S.L. Handyside


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“The feelings of an Eden lost evident in my writings, and the longings for a folk society, are all about Maxinkuckee…” –Kurt Vonnegut

The Vonneguts were highly influential citizens in Indianapolis in the late 1800s, some of the architects of its social and physical landscape. Between 1880 and 1920, they built a village of summer cottages on Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, Indiana. Number 814 East Shore Drive is one of them. Built in 1890, it was on the verge of demolition in 2013. A graduate of Culver Military Academy bought the house to save it from destruction and restore it. He invited me and my boyfriend, Garth, to live in it while doing minor repairs.

My life being the opposite of that of the leisure class which dominates Lake Max, I came to Culver ready to expose and attack its laziness, conformism and superficiality. But a little research revealed that those who built Lake Max’s leisure class were the antithesis of lazy, conformist and superficial. Like me, they were rebels who set out on their own in search of better lives than the ones they were prescribed.

Renovation of number 814 was much bigger than anticipated. We demolished and rebuilt nearly half the house. Renovating Vonnegut includes my journals about living in the house while it was a construction zone, and histories about Lake Max, Culver and the Vonneguts. Like Garth and me and number 814’s new owner, Kurt Vonnegut’s ancestors valued the ability to think for oneself. It turns out Lake Maxinkuckee is a magnet for the independent-minded, and it’s their stories which make up Renovating Vonnegut.

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