Zelda Dameron was Indiana novelist Meredith Nicholson’s second novel but his first to be set in Indianapolis. It offers a glimpse of life in the state capital through the eyes of the city’s upper class just before the advent of the automobile. Published by Bobbs-Merrill, and filled with comments about various city landmarks and institutions but not necessarily people, the book was well-received locally and nationally.

The story, of the type for which Nicholson later became famous, is a light romance with elements of mystery and skullduggery. Nicholson’s characters are well-drawn and the book, despite the triteness of the plot and its focus on a narrow segment of the population, remains a valuable social document. He used the device of having his title character, an engaging young heiress from “Mariona” (Indianapolis), return from an extended trip abroad in order to introduce her, and his readers, to the capital city at century’s end.

Nicholson incorporates some of the insights he had developed at greater length in his history of The Hoosiers (1900), and he is particularly effective at evoking the transportation methods employed in the 1890s, including the dramatic change represented by the advent of the electric Interurban. Identifiable settings in the novel include the Morris and Mansur homes, Meridian and Lockerbie streets, and the Columbia Club. The book’s popularity was soon eclipsed by that of Nicholson’s most famous and successful book, The House Of A Thousand Candles, published the following year and set in northern Indiana.

Revised July 2021

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