INDIANAPOLIS — Oct. 4, 2018 was just another ordinary news day. Then in a flash, it wasn’t, and for one person whose name would soon become synonymous with one part of the city, things would never be the same.
That evening, an explosion was reported on the east side of Indianapolis. WRTV sent veteran photojournalist Jake Weller to the scene — a hole caused by the blast on part of East Washington Street in Irvington. Jake was also tasked with finding someone who may have seen or heard what happened. He did. Boy, did he ever.
“My name is Ellie…. E-L-L-I-E.”
The person with the blue-ish blonde hair didn’t give Jake a last name. In a few seconds, it wouldn’t matter.
“Ellie, just kind of tell me what you heard,” Weller said.
“I was in my apartment, just drinking a glass of wine, and the whole building shook like an apocalyptic earthquake. It was crazy.”
“Loud a-- boom, yeah … totally sounded like it went off right next to me. I thought maybe my upstairs neighbor, like, had some s--- happened.”
Weller could not keep from laughing while asking a follow-up question.
“So you thought (chuckle) it was inside your building?” he asked.
As part of the crew putting together Good Morning Indiana the next day, I was excited to find out what exactly had happened in Irvington. We still didn’t know, but I had an email from Jake that said two things: First, the interview he had was a gem. Secondly, it needed to be “edited for television.”
The interview with Ellie would become bigger than the still-largely unexplained explosion, particularly when Ellie punctuated it with a statement that anyone who knows Indianapolis knows to be true — “I live on the east side. I work on the east side ... It’s definitely crazy, but I’m not terribly concerned. I mean, some bull----‘s always going down on the east side.”
Ellie does have two names, by the way. “East Side IS my first name,” Ellie Mitchell joked as we chatted on Zoom, three years to the day after the interview that became legendary.
As soon as their comments went viral, the memes started appearing on social media. At the time, Ellie was an artist — also working at an east side CVS. Within days, an art studio was holding a "meet and greet" where you could have your picture made with the newly Christened “East Side Ellie.” A Facebook page urged the public to lobby for Ellie to be grand marshal of the legendary Irvington Halloween Parade.
It was all because Ellie told what they thought was the truth about where they lived. And, to be sure, “bulls---” on the east side was a term of endearment.
“I think that people who live there don’t view it as necessarily negative, as something to be looked down upon, but just as a way things are,” Ellie said.
We all get 15 minutes of fame, as the late artist Andy Warhol once opined. That could have been it for Ellie Mitchell. But that was not to be the case.
“That video had three years’ worth of impact on my story and journey. It’s kind of come full circle,” Mitchell told me. “It highlighted the impact that one person can have on their community, the amount of impact that I can have on my community. It was really enlightening.”
The reaction to the interview was a sign for Ellie; a sign they had — in their words — “superpowers” to make wherever they were a better place.
It also led them to leave the east side of Indy one year later for San Francisco, “and pursue a career in illustration, graphic design and ethical retail. But I think as 2020 served for all of us, it was a rift in the fabric of our realities. I think a lot of people experienced a directional shift to spaces that are more deeply soul-fulfilling.”
Some soul-searching led Ellie back to their hometown of Cincinnati, but it is not a long-term move. A desire to “connect to the basics of being” has Ellie on the verge of what they believe will be their life’s mission.
“Nov. 1, I’m starting on a year-long traveling farming apprenticeship. The vision is to someday have my own community farm/ranch that also serves as a sanctuary for those who are ready to begin a healing journey,” they said.
Ellie will be working for WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). It’s an unpaid internship — only Ellie’s room and board will be covered, and they are raising money to help pay their expenses over the next year. You can donate to Ellie’s journey and follow them as they make their way to farms across the county at farmerelm.com. You can also follow Ellie @farmer.el on Instagram. As an incentive for you to give, if Ellie raises $7,000 by November 1, they will donate $1,000 to a food justice program on Indy's east side.
They may not come back to Indy, at least not anytime soon. But Ellie wants you to know that they are east side for life.
“The communal intimacy and the neighborhood bonding is unlike anything I have felt or experienced before,” Mitchell said.
As for those “superpowers” their brief time on WRTV brought them, Ellie also wants you to know those powers were actually there all the time, and they also are in all of us.
“Just wait. Wait it out. It’s going to come,” Ellie said. "Pay attention to what’s happening around you. Something like a news interview going viral might end up awakening your sole purpose and being a huge directional shift into following your life energy.”