A tragic fire occurred at the Indianapolis Atheltic Club on February 5th, 1992. It changed the handling of fire safety in tall buildings nationwide and forever imprinted a spectral aura upon the historic building. Three people, two firefighters and one civilian died in the horrific blaze. Their spirits still strive to keep the residents of the building safe while making quite the racket in the afterlife.
The Indianapolis Athletic Club was built in the 1920s when Indianapolis underwent prolific changes. It reflected the prosperity the city was embracing and was one of many new high-rise buildings adorning the downtown area.
At its height, the IAC boasted 2000 members ranging from political leaders to Olympic athletes. As the years went on, its reputation and membership diminished. But its stature in Indianapolis history was never forgotten.
Now used as luxury condos, residents report loud noises outside their doors and various electronic failures. The two firefighters and one unlucky guest of the fire remind tenants of their tragic ending on a nightly basis.
Join us on a trip to haunted Indianapolis as we uncover the secrets of the Indianapolis Athletic Club.
The storied beginnings of the Indianapolis Athletic Club started in 1920. The organization was founded by several astute businessmen looking to promote “clean sports, amusement, and sociability.” Their grandeur vision received a home in 1922 when the foundations for the building were laid at Meridian and Vermont Streets.
In January 1924, the Indianapolis Athletic Club opened to the public. It came complete with 160 sleeping rooms, a billiard room, a basketball gymnasium, smoking lounges, dining rooms, and a separate apartment for women. Diving, Water Ballet, and life-saving classes were all offered to members, some of whom were very important.
Several U.S. presidents have been guests at the IAC, such as Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson. Clarinetist Benny Goodman put on a riveting performance poolside here in 1939. Tony Hulman signed the papers for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway here in 1945. Among them were many local politicians and businessmen.
Politics aside, four Olympic swimmers swam to the big games in the 1960s, helping the IAC live up to its name. The club kept up with the changing times, allowing its first African-American member in 1972 and its first woman member in 1980.
But by the early 1990s, the club had fallen into disrepair; the 70 years of athletic service it provided to the community had left it beaten and needing an update. It was here that disaster struck the Indianapolis Athletic Club.
February 5th, 1992, began like any other day at the Indianapolis Athletic Club. Well, not quite. The IAC had the privilege of housing the jury of the infamous Mike Tyson rape trial. They luckily escaped with their lives, and Iron Mike was sentenced to six years in jail, a sentence he only served three for.
But for others in the Athletic Club turned hotel, their lives were about to change forever. On the night of February 4th, a fire broke out on the third floor, sparked by a faulty refrigerator wire.
The bar where the refrigerator was located closed down at 5:30 p.m. The first to notice something was amiss was a front desk clerk, leaving his post for a piece of pie. At 11:45 p.m., he and another employee noticed a strange burning smell. Upon further investigation, they noticed smoke escaping the vents on the first floor.
47-year-old Firefighter Woody Gelenius was the first to arrive on the scene. He quickly called for backup, and the team went to work extinguishing the fire, at least the portion they could identify. Many stations nationwide were unprepared to fight fires in high-rise buildings; they were no exception.
Smoke still filled the rooms after the fire on the third floor was extinguished. They had no idea that, above their heads, a second fire was burning between the fourth floor and the ceiling. It eventually erupted, trapping three firefighters and numerous civilians.
The team worked diligently to rescue everyone, but at the end of it all, two firefighters, Wood Gelenius and 29-year-old John Lorenzano, had succumbed to the smoke. One guest of the hotel, 71-year-old Thomas Mutz, was also lost in the inferno.
This great tragedy was never forgotten, even after the IAC shuttered in 2004. The building was eventually turned into luxury condos, and the prestigious athletic club was just another page in the history books.
But every year, during the St. Paddy’s Day Parade, the firefighters of Indianapolis pause at the building and deliver a salute to their lost brothers. Stricter regulations and procedures were implemented following the fire at the IAC, changing lives nationwide.
There are other remnants of the fire, too; the ones who were lost remain, and their spirits create a ruckus to remind the new tenants of their firey demise.
Tenants of the wealthy apartments often hear loud banging at their doors in the middle. When they go to investigate who could be creating such a rude disturbance, they are met with nothing but thin air. Perhaps they are trying to send a warning, thinking the fire is still raging in the afterlife.
Electronics will cease to operate, especially on the third floor, and shadow figures are seen in the long hallway where the firefighters lost their lives.
Now that you know the horrid story of the great fire of 1992, don’t you want to know more? Indianapolis is full of haunted locations, dark history, and tragic stories that captivate and awe visitors year-round.
Take a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures to experience it for yourself! Read our blog for more haunted locations, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for a constant stream of spooky content.