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Rooker, Samuel S.

Was the first person that ever painted a sign in this place.  He came to Indianapolis in the fall of 1821, from Tennessee.  At this time there was not a sign of any kind in the town.  In addition to the joy felt at having gained a new citizen and neighbor, all were glad to have one qualified to announce their names and business in glowing letters.  The first to order a sign from the painter was Caleb Scudder, cabinet maker.  This Mr. Rooker painted on white ground with fiery red letters, and when finished it read, “Kalop Skodder, Kabbinet Maker.”

            Mr. R. soon received an order from Mr. Carter for a sign for the “Rosebush,” and one from Mr. Hawkins for the Eagle tavern.  It was said that Mr. Hawkins’ sign was that of a turkey, with a surname attached.

            He afterwards [sic] painted one for Major Belles.  The design was “General Lafayette in fully uniform.”  This was a fine opportunity for the painter to show his skill in portrait painting.  When he commenced, it was his intention to paint it full size, but after finishing the head and body he found there was not room for the legs full length; so he left out the section between the knee and ancle, and attached the feet to the knee joint, which gave the General the appearance of a very short legged man.  This sign stood on the Michigan road, six miles south-east of town, for many years.

            In justice to Mr. R., I must say he improved very much in his profession in after years.  He painted the portrait of the writer, which was complimentary to the subject and a great credit to the artist.  Charlie Campbell thinks it was one of the most striking likenesses he ever saw.  What became of it I do not know, but have no doubt it could be found in some of the New York art galleries.

            He painted a sign for a man keeping tavern on the National road.  The man had ordered a lion, full size, as the design.  When it was finished he thought the good-natured painter had misunderstood him, and instead of painting a lion, as he wished, had painted a prairie wolf.  Mr. Rooker had some trouble to convince the man that this was a bona fide African lion, and not a wolf.  Mrs. Rooker was very indignant that the gentleman did not properly appreciate her husband’s superior skill in painting.  She thought that Sammy could paint as good a lion as any other person.

“The painter thought of his growing fame,

And the work that should bring him an endless same.”

             There area many yet living who remember Mr. Rooker’s own sign, that stood on the north-east corner of Washington and Illinois streets.  It read, “Samuel S. Rooker, House and Sine Painter.”  It is proper to say that, although sign painting was not Mr. Rooker’s forte, he was a good house painter, and generally rendered satisfaction to his customers in that line.  Neither was he the only person that had not mastered Webster in the spelling book.  A prominent merchant used to spell tobacco, “tobaker;” and bacon, “bakin.”

             Mr. Rooker yet lives in a neighboring town, but does not follow his profession as sign painter.  He was an honest, upright man, an obliging neighbor and a good citizen. 


Nowland, John H. B., “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis, with Short Biographical Sketches of Its Early Citizens, and of a Few of the Prominent Business Men of the Present Day,” 1870, pp. 82-84.