515 Blake Street
Wilhelm Frederich Rabe
Wilhelm Frederich Rabe, born in 1859, was a native of Ohio. Prior to moving to Indiana, he had another family, including a wife and children. He changed his name and left his family behind in Ohio to come to Indiana. Once in Indianapolis, he became a police officer, met Mary Jane Felumlee, and started his second family which included a son named Charles. In 1896, the scandal came out after a letter about Wilhelm's past identity was found by fellow policemen. Initially after the scandal, Wilhelm left his Indianapolis family. However, he soon came back, legally changed his name, and remarried Mary. He returned to the police force and worked as a humane officer, continuing to live in Indianapolis at 515 Blake Street until his death in 1926.
Born to Mary Felumlee and Wilhelm Gunsolus (formerly Rabe), Charles Henry Gunsolus began his life in 1893 in Indianapolis, Indiana in the same house he would live in for the majority of his life. As a young man, Charles made a name for himself by obtaining multiple degrees from Butler University. He even spent a short stint at Yale University at the age of 22. Around the 1920s, he began a long life in the ministry, starting at churches such as the Fourth Christian Church and the Speedway Christian Church. By 1922, he had become the pastor of Garfield Church of Christ, where he gave sermons such as Angels Visit the Earth: "In the future we shall visit the stars and planets...blind will see...dead shall come back...astrology, clairvoyance, mental telepathy and other arcane sciences of the spirit world are...true."
By the next year, he had started appearing at Ku Klux Klan (KKK) events. Truly unsurprising at this time, for the organization had garnered much mainstream support from the white majority. He believed in getting rid of the divorce laws, protecting prohibition, and was a strong advocate for Americanism. He participated in the KKK throughout 1923 and was noted as being a part of events like KKK ice cream socials. As Indianapolis also had a large African American population, it became the heart of conflicting identities for much of the 20th century. Gunsolus approached his 30s and still was preaching notions about choosing people for political offices as "Americans and Christians first" (American meaning something more specific than just someone who was born on US soil). It was around this time he began to direct the Ladies All American Orchestra.
By 1924, Charles had become very concerned with the astral plane. He claimed that orthodoxy had failed and believed in a great spiritual awakening. He was quoted saying that "The great stones of the pyramids were lifted and placed in position by spirit hands... Spirit levitation is mentioned in scripture and is a proven scientific fact...while we sleep our spirits are taken to strange and mysterious places" and "are the planets inhabited? Within 25 years we shall be in communication with Mars and the inhabitants of the moon...accomplished by the intermittence of regular currents of electricity and by the arcane powers of the astral light."
It was around this time that Charles began to shift his ideas about racial identity. In 1925, (having only recently been attending KKK ice cream socials) he claimed that races should consider familiarizing themselves with other races and languages. Although the caveat to that assertion was that America was still unequivocally the leader among all other nations.
By the time he was 31, Charles was elected President of the Indiana Psychic Research Society. It was at this time that he began thinking about starting a college of spiritualism. He started issuing certificates to mediums and believed that the spirit world passed down our thoughts to us. He once said "mental vibrations are just as real as the vibrations of magnetism and electricity. In the future men will transmit complex ideas and emotions via telepathy rather than speech." Around this time, he also claimed to have visited the moon astrally.
Charles became well-known in the Indianapolis community. However, he was not always viewed positively. In 1925, he was pulled up on stage at one of the great Hoodini's magic shows and called out for being a fraud. A few years later in 1927, he faced a Federal Indictment for giving false diplomas from his home run college: Gunsolus College of Spiritualism. However, he continued issuing them into 1929. Here he promised his students that he could teach them how to see, hear and talk to spirits and angels.
By 1931 he officially claimed that "Negroes are more mystical and more spiritually minded than the white race" and that "all races are equal in the sight of God." He went on to become an adamant integrationist and worked primarily with African Americans during the later years of his life. At this point he worked with the community, performed seances, and did consultations out of his house at 515 Blake Street. A jack of many trades, he also had a music school in which he guaranteed a student would master the instrument "in 25 lessons or less." At the same time, he ran ads for language and psychology lessons.
On February 22, 1940 Charles married a former student, Elsa (Elsie) Nora Miars. They would go on to spend the remainder of their lives together. In 1950 he awarded himself the honor of being the President of the International Spiritual University and the Universal Christian Spiritualist Association. At this point in his life the ads he posted in the papers carried a long list of titles "Dr. Rev. Charles H. Gunsolus, A.B., M.A., B.B.S., M.S., D.Sc., B.D., D.D., Th.D, S.T.D., Ph.D., LL.D., Mus.D., LH.D." He remained enrolled at Butler University for the majority of his life continuing to take classes on a myriad of subjects. The press reported seeing over 200 diplomas on the walls of his home at 515 Blake Street.
In 1959, Charles claimed he was a teacher of world religions and in 1960 he wrote to the Indianapolis Recorder with the opinion that Martin Luther King Jr. should run for Vice President and Governor of Indiana. However, after IUPUI began to absorb the neighborhood in which he had spent his entire life, things started to change for him. He fought Indiana University for the name "University of Indianapolis" as he had already claimed the name for his school. However, his school never had any official graduates.
515 Blake Street Today
In 1978 Charles Gunsolus was forced to abandon his lifelong home on Blake Street after the sale of his home was approved. He then re-located to another house on 10th Street where he spent the remainder of his life, passing away in 1982. 515 Blake Street was demolished in 1984. Today the North Street Parking Garage sits in its place.
Written by Lauryn Flynn
Edited by Hannah Ryker, February 20, 2020