“I’ve lived by a man’s code designed to fit a man’s world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman’s first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick.” -Carole Lombard
If anyone ever made the most of life, it was “Hoosier Tornado” Carole Lombard. Standing at a mere 5’2″ in heels, she was her own brand of dynamite. A glamorous star with the mouth of a sailor, she was down-to-earth, hilarious, forward, and refreshingly beautiful. Her romance with Clark Gable is legend, as is her untimely death.
Born Jane Alice Peters on October 6, 1908, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Peters was the tomboyish daughter of a very affluent family. Her parents were Frederick C. Peters and Elizabeth Knight. As a child, she played with her two older brothers while attending Washington Elementary, within walking distance from her home. Unfortunately, her father’s anger issues tore the Knight-Peters marriage apart, leading her mother to take the children west in 1916.
Peters was drawn into show business by simply being herself. While playing baseball in the streets, she was spotted by director Allan Dwan and was cast in the role of a tomboy. Afterwards, she appeared in a string of comedies and eventually took a turn for the dramatic in Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934), already working under the name Carole Lombard. An established “Queen of Screwball Comedies,” Lombard quickly became a prominent star in the Hollywood studio system.
Upon a brief marriage to William Powell, Lombard eventually reunited with Clark Gable, with whom she had worked in No Man of Her Own (1932). The two were immensely fond of each other, and Lombard was never afraid to take the “King of Hollywood” down a few pegs. Once his divorce from an oil heiress was finalized, Gable proposed to the vivacious Lombard at the Brown Derby in 1939. The couple purchased a ranch in Encino, California.
Fate dealt a heavy blow when Lombard completed a war bond rally in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was in a hurry to get home. Lombard’s mother was also with her and was aghast at the idea of flying, hoping instead for a trip by train. An avid numerologist, she was especially frightened after realizing that the flight was TWA #3, the plane was a DC-3, they were traveling in a party of three, and that Lombard was 33 years old (with the number three being considered unlucky in numerology). The decision came down to a fateful coin toss.
Lombard’s last words at the Indianapolis rally were as follows: “Before I say goodbye to you all, come on – join me in a big cheer – ‘V for Victory!'”
Gable missed Lombard terribly and made sure the house was in perfect order, even planning a surprise party. However, he soon received word that Lombard’s plane had gone down outside of Las Vegas. Everyone was killed instantly. MGM Executive Eddie Mannix brought back a piece of one of Lombard’s ruby clips that Gable had given her that past Christmas as well as a lock of her blonde hair. Clark held out the hope that her wedding band would be found, even offering a reward, but it never was.
Lombard died on January 16, 1942, at age 33. She is interred next to Gable and her mother at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
Though 71 years have passed since her death, Carole Lombard is still Fort Wayne’s “brightest star.” Her childhood home still stands at 704 Rockhill Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Formerly operating as a bed and breakfast, the Carole Lombard House is owned by Rick and Cora, who have taken great care in maintaining the home and a host of Lombard memorabilia. Though the home is no longer a bed and breakfast, tours can be arranged by contacting Rick and Cora directly.
Rick and Cora have gone through extensive efforts to preserve the home and represent it in a way that would have been familiar to Carole. When Rick and Cora learned the former owner would be selling the home, they decided to purchase the house and continue its operation as a bed and breakfast until 2011. Tourist traffic in Fort Wayne is not very high, so they ceased running it as a business. Nevertheless, the couple has welcomed in guests from all over the world, wanting to get a glimpse of Carole’s humble beginnings. I applaud them greatly for maintaining Carole’s home and continuing to let her fans appreciate her by dropping in for a visit.
The house is structured in a lovely Queen Anne style, and is brimming with antiques and Lombard-related history. The entryway houses original newspaper clippings covering Lombard’s death, as well as tracings of both Gable and Lombard’s Walk of Fame stars. The home overlooks the nearby St. Mary’s River, and the Carole Lombard Memorial Bridge.
Rick and Cora are continuing to restore the home. They have plans to repaint the exterior and create a brighter color scheme.
The home of Lombard’s grandfather is very close to Lombard’s Fort Wayne home. It is located at 832 W. Wayne St., Fort Wayne, Indiana.
At a 2000 auction, the Propylaeum acquired a bed and other furnishings that Lombard used while staying at the now-demolished Claypool Hotel. The Propylaeum is located at 1410 N. Delaware St., Indianapolis, Indiana.
While Gable never found Lombard’s wedding band, a fan of Lombard’s who has hiked Mt. Potosi has found pieces of her jewelry–including the elusive ring in 2021. The platinum band is engraged with the message, “All my love 3-29-39.”
Lombard has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work in motion pictures, located at 6930 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.
Forest Lawn—Glendale is located at 1712 Glendale Ave., Glendale, California.
If you’re anticipating a trip through Fort Wayne, I strongly encourage you to get in touch with Rick and Cora via their website. You won’t want to miss their landmark home.
August 2014 Update: About a little over a year since my first visit to the Carole Lombard Home, I was lucky enough to be in the area once again to cover a story about the nearby Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. I couldn’t resist dropping by once again, since the Carole Lombard Home is easily one of my favorite spots in Indiana. How can it not be? Crossing the bridge over the St. Mary’s River and glimpsing the teal Queen Anne Victorian home on the corner is just as magical to me as it was on that rainy July day when I first visited.
I’m happy to say that Rick and Cora are still as wonderful and welcoming as ever, and continue to recognize the delightful history to their beautiful home. Best of all, they put so much love and care into the upkeep of their amazing house, which is certainly no easy feat. They are still planning to repaint the home, and possibly change the color, and are considering a new deck to better glimpse the nearby river and Carole Lombard Memorial Bridge. The city of Fort Wayne is exploring the possibility of better developing the land around the river and will be working on cleaning up the St. Mary’s River for the citizens and tourists of Fort Wayne.
Since my last visit, the Anthony Wayne Rotary members restored the plaque marking the home. The plaque is in much better condition, with no changes in text. The plaque was dedicated anew in a special ceremony outside the home.
Additionally, in December 2013, a new biography about Carole was released. Author Robert Matzen’s Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3, according to Rick, is extremely well-written. Rick and Cora are working with Matzen to coordinate a book-signing event in October, to ideally coincide with Carole’s birthday.
On another note, Rick and Cora shared a fun story with me, since I had just come back from seeing Duesenbergs on display at Auburn’s immaculately preserved Art Deco showroom. Auburn, Indiana, hosts a major Duesenberg festival every year. However, one year was particularly special, since the Duesenberg that Carole gave to Clark Gable was on display. This was, of course, a priceless vehicle on display, with no one allowed to touch it. As Rick and Cora admired it, they shared that they owned Carole’s Fort Wayne home. Needless to say, this lucky pair were able to sit in the ’35 Duesey, with Cora in the driver’s seat. And it suits them well!
Thanks to the hard work of Rick and Cora, Carole’s house still stands near the historic West Central District of Fort Wayne and brings an immeasurable elegance to Rockhill Street. I am beyond appreciative of Rick and Cora’s efforts to maintain such a unique part of Fort Wayne’s history, and their unending kindness when it comes to opening the door to classic film fans like myself! For this, an immense thank you, and barrage of well-wishes to Rick and Cora!
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