Unwrapping the stories of IU’s most unique gifts

A man takes a picture of the prow, which is behind a large red and white sign reading "USS Indiana."
The last ship to be named for the Hoosier state, the USS Indiana served in the Pacific during World War II. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University.

Say you’re strolling down Fourth Street in Berkeley, California. Something outside a seafood restaurant catches your eye. It’s a piece of a ship emblazoned “USS Indiana.” There in the parking lot, the prow of a former World War II naval ship now serves as a makeshift valet attendant stand.

If you’re an Indiana University alumnus and football fan, as Scott Clarke is, you see an opportunity.

A black-and-white photo of a battleship on water.
The USS Indiana en route to the Marshall Islands, January 1944. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

“I write to you with an idea that could give a big boost for the university and our beleaguered/beloved football program,” Clarke suggested to IU in a letter to the editor published by the The Herald-Times in 2012.

“Bring her home,” he wrote, imploring the university to rescue the prow and bring it to Bloomington. There the prow would be reunited with the USS Indiana mainmast and gun mounts, which have been on display at IU football’s Memorial Stadium since 1966.

Bearing an "OVERSIZE LOAD" sign, the prow of the USS Indiana arrives at Memorial Stadium on a flatbed truck.
From Berkeley to Bloomington, the prow of the USS Indiana traveled more than 2,000 miles. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University.

The restaurant owners generously agreed to donate the prow to the university. In 2013, it was refurbished, installed, and dedicated in a special ceremony honoring veterans.

That is the story of just one of the items in IU’s collections of more than 30 million objects. Each object has a story. And the hero in the story is often a generous person who gave the item to IU.

Some people leave their entire estates, homes, and all the personal items within, to the university. Such gifts of property, land, and objects large and small fall under the purview of the IU Foundation Real Estate and Personal Property team. It’s a team that rarely sees a dull moment.

On one day, they might be facilitating the arrival of Glenn Close’s costumes.

The next, they’re visiting property that is being sold in support of a $6 million gift for an investigative journalism center at IU.

On another, they’re working with IU’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese to authenticate a roughly 500-year-old scroll supposedly signed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. (Turns out, it was legit.)

A photo of two elaborate, black-and-white dresses, a pair of polka-dot gloves, and a cigarette holder.
Actress Glenn Close donated her costume collection (including these outfits and accessories from 101 Dalmatians) to IU in 2017. Photo courtesy of Glenn Close.

This team has to ponder some interesting questions.

Is IU willing to accept moon dust? Nope. The US government claims eminent domain on all samples of lunar rock, so accepting a private collector’s moon dust could’ve put IU between, well, a rock and a hard place.

Can you donate your body to IU for scientific research? Yes, but that’s handled by the IU School of Medicine.

What if someone donates a home that’s located in a nudist colony? You keep your clothes on and you process the estate with the same respect and care you would any other property.

An overhead shot of several large houses next to a harbor.
IU donors often give homes or property to benefit the university. You can see properties for sale at property.iu.edu.

The things that people donate to IU are as wide-ranging as the university itself.

Pianos, paintings, photographs, pipe organs . . .

Corvettes, kilts, handwritten letters, locks of hair, historic sewing tools . . .

The list could go on and on and on.

A brown curl of hair is displayed on a framed card.
IU is home to not one but two locks of Edgar Allen Poe’s hair. This one was a gift of J.K. Lilly, whose generous financial support established IU’s Lilly Library. Photo courtesy of Lilly Library.

No matter what it is, each of these precious, often personal, gifts is thoughtfully stewarded. Some items are sold; others will become part of the permanent collections of various IU programs and centers. Whichever the case may be, considering how to maximize each donor’s generous gift to Indiana University is the IU Foundation’s utmost concern.

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Written By
Andrea Alumbaugh
A native Hoosier, Andrea Alumbaugh is a graduate of IU (BAJ’08) and a senior writer at the IU Foundation.