Deadly Halloween explosion horror unknown to many six decades after blast

Coliseum Blast
Posted at 4:55 PM, Oct 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-01 10:55:32-04

INDIANAPOLIS — An explosion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum killed 74 people on Halloween night 1963. The tragedy sent shock waves across the country.

“It was big news at the time,” John Staten said.

Staten, then 15, was inside the Coliseum with his parents, grandmother, and his siblings, Barbara and David. The family gathered to see the opening night of "Holiday on Ice."

“My brother and I were big ice show fans,” Staten said. “When my sister was born, David and I insisted that she be named Barbara Ann after Barbara Ann Scott, who was the Canadian champion.”

Staten Family
The Staten family poses for a picture on Oct. 27, 1963. (From left to right) John Staten, Mary Staten, Barbara Staten, and David Staten.

The Staten brothers grew up on the ice.

“We skated a lot at the Coliseum,” Staten said. “We lived on Fall Creek, just a few blocks from there, so we were up at the Coliseum and the fairgrounds quite a lot.”

Staten says that during the show’s finale, he heard a hollow sounding boom. He then awoke to find himself on the ice.

Coliseum blast
Firefighters search through rubble for victims inside the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum in 1963.

“There was lots of broken concrete and glass all over, and my left shoe had been blown off,” Staten said. “I decided I would go up to see if I could find the rest of the family, and I started to climb back up into the pile of rubble and there was a second explosion. I don't remember much of anything after that.”

Staten then found himself in the hospital alongside a roommate.

“They wouldn't let me have a newspaper,” Staten said. “My roommate got a newspaper, and he tossed it over to me. There on the front page was the list of the people who've been killed and injured. One by one I found family listed as having been killed.”

Dr. Jesse C. Staten, 50

Mary Staten, 46

David Staten, 14

Lena Staten, 70

“I'd really like to remember the last things I said to my brother,” Staten said. “He was sitting next to me on my right, but I just can't remember any of the conversations that night.”

While Staten’s final memories elude him today, his sister Barbara Staten Speedy did share her memories before her death in 2006. Staten Speedy spoke with WRTV reporter Greg Todd in October 1983.

1983: Survivor reflects on Coliseum explosion 20 years later

“That’s the last place our family went together and we were there as a family and having a good time enjoying ourselves. I try to remember that because the last time before the lights went out, everybody was talking, having a good time, laughing, having popcorn. It was a good place. It was a good way to end that time of my life.”

Viewers were also introduced to Staten Speedy’s 4-year-old daughter, Jamy, who today says her mother never let the tragedy impact the Halloween holiday.

Speedy Family
The Speedy family is pictured in October 1983.

“She always tried to make Halloween very special for my brother and myself,” Jamy Speedy said. “It wasn't a sad night in our house. She did the best to uplift it and make us have fun which really shocked me as I got older now that I think back on it, because that just had to be a terrible night.”

Speedy is not alone.

In the six decades that have since passed since the tragedy, the horror of what unfolded that night has widely been withheld from the generations that followed.

“I'm amazed at the number of people who when I mentioned something about it, they don't even know that such a thing happened,” Staten said.