Lothian Skelton stood alongside members of the Red Skelton Foundation's board of directors on Friday and celebrated as her late husband's birthplace was finally donned with a state historical marker.
As she stood in the late afternoon sun on the porch of the the house at 111 W. Lyndale Ave., the room where America's Favorite Clown was born just behind her, she called it “a great day.”
“To stand here and look over at the museum,” she said gesturing toward the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy about a block away, “I realize Red's legacy will go on and on and on.
“It's all very meaningful and a dream come true.”
Skelton went on to thank everyone in the Vincennes community for preserving her husband's memory. Their efforts, she hopes, will allow those who loved Skelton to remember him and young people to be continually inspired.
“He spent his life giving inspiration,” she told the crowd gathered outside the home for the unveiling ceremony. “Red would say, 'You take the word good, take out the O, and you've found Him.
“And I don't know how to top that,” she said with a warm smile.
Museum officials' efforts to see the historical marker placed outside Skelton's birthplace began last summer. Anne Pratt, the museum's director, called it “a labor of love” for local historian and collections consultant Mark Kratzner.
Chandler Lighty, director of the Indiana Historical Bureau, the organization that approves and places the historical markers, said there are now such signs in 88 of Indiana's 92 counties. There are several in Vincennes alone.
They commemorate a variety of topics, everything from women's history and military victories to achievements in science and medicine.
But, he told the group, the organization has recently shifted its focus to commemorating more events in pop culture and Hoosier icons as well.
“So we were thrilled to get the museum's application,” he said. “These historical markers are snapshots of the past, and they educate the public about people and events who have had an impact on our state, the country.
“And this home is worthy of such recognition.”
Historians believe the home was likely constructed in 1898. Skelton's family, including his three brothers, were raised there.
It was sold to Anthony Cardinal Sr. and his wife, Anna, on May 8, 1940 for $1,200 — a little under $21,000 today — and it remained in the Cardinal family until they sold it to Vincennes University in 2003.
Thoughts were to eventually turn it into a museum dedicated to Vincennes' Favorite Son, but the space proved to be too small. Foundation members opted, instead, to build the nearby Red Skelton Performing Arts Center and adjoining museum, which was unveiled in 2013.
The house now serves as the site of a food pantry, but hopes are to eventually restore it to what it likely looked like when Skelton was a boy.
Tony Cardinal Jr., who now lives in Florida, returned to Vincennes for the dedication Friday, even offering the original bill of sale and deed to museum officials.
“This is my home,” Cardinal said from the front porch. “I just live in Florida. I'm proud to be back here.”
Doug Carroll, a local historian and columnist for the Sun-Commercial, said he fell in love with Skelton's work when he was just 5 years old. Years later, while living in Vincennes, he learned from an uncle that his hero's birthplace was within walking distance.
Carroll said growing up he spent many an afternoon gazing at the house from the sidewalk across the street. Now, he said, he'll come to gaze at the historical marker finally giving it its due.
“This house and I go back to 1971,” he joked. “This was where Red was born, and this was where he always came back.”
And Mayor Joe Yochum, too, paid tribute to “a simple house of humble beginnings” that formed the life of “a legend.”
The marker makes note of Skelton's time performing as a clown in the traveling circus as well as his performances on the vaudeville stage.
His comedy career took off in 19040 when he signed a contract with MGM, and he solidified his fame a year later with the debut of his national NBC radio show, the marker states.
Red also performed for troops during World War II and would later become a cultural icon with his television show, “The Red Skelton Show,” which aired for 20 years.
He is perhaps best remembered for on-screen characters like Freddie the Freeloader and for his iconic interpretation of the Pledge of Allegiance.