Commentary by Dick Wolfsie
Former advertising man and World War II veteran Keith Bratton couldn’t get rich creating ads, so he decided to also not get rich by creating off-the-wall ideas, inventions and schemes. He’s been very successful. He hasn’t made a dime.
Bratton, 92, moved from Carmel to Meadow Brook Senior Living in Fishers two years ago following a stroke. He was one of the first people I met more than 35 years ago when I moved to Indy. I visit him often.
Here’s a look back at some of Bratton’s innovations:
- First, there were Santa-bolic Steroids, which were tiny pills to boost energy at Christmastime.
- There was Kosher Konfetti for Jewish weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and circumcisions.
- He invented a tiny mock cable to jump-start your watch battery from someone else’s.
This one-time award-winning account executive for the Indiana State Fair set up a booth between the corn-on-the-cob vendor and the pork chop tent that sold … dental floss. He suggested the fair sell cotton candy that was 60 percent polyester and only 40 percent cotton, so it would be reusable (just fluff and dry).
If you’re always depressed when the Indiana State Fair ends, not to worry: Bratton made “Bags of Air of the Smells of the Fair” for people who wanted the memory to linger. It came in many varieties: Cow Barn, Swine Barn and Poultry. Oh, and there was a clear window in the bag so you could see what you had bought. A higher priced version was vacuum-packed.
There was Absorba the Grease, a product to remove stains, and my favorite: The Golf Ball Activator kit, with an antenna on the box. When the package was opened, the spring-loaded ball popped out, accompanied by a buzzer sound.
“I only made two, but I could have sold twice as many,” Bratton said.
By far his most popular invention was a splash screen for urinals with Osama bin Laden’s picture on it. He did sell quite a few of those, especially to local taverns. But he ran into an unexpected problem.
“People kept stealing them,” he said. “It kind of gave me the creeps just to think about that.”
Through the years, Bratton has supplemented his income with a unique style of art that he calls “whimsicals.” Each framed picture is a one-panel cartoon. The cartoon is not drawn, but instead fashioned with small pieces of colored paper, creating a three-dimensional effect.
“I’m the best in the world at it,” Bratton said. But he also admits he’s probably the only one doing it.
Bratton has sold hundreds of these. Some are his own idea; others were commissioned by clients to emphasize an idiosyncrasy of a friend or loved one that they could give as a gift. One of his creations became the poster for the Indy 500 in l991. It was a montage of the people involved in the event – drivers, cops, vendors, fans – made with dozens of paper cut-outs. He is still making them and selling them to residents at Meadow Brook.
“I can’t draw any more due to the stroke, but I can use scissors,” he said.
One of Bratton’s favorites is a priest exposing himself in front of three shocked nuns. The priest is fully dressed under his frock, but he is sporting a wild necktie. Another favorite is an Amish artist painting racing stripes on his horse and buggy.
For many years, Bratton’s art was displayed and sold at a car wash in Castleton.
“Some may have looked down on that, but more people go through a car wash than a museum,” he said.
One of his wildest notions was to build the Alco Hall of Fame in Bourbon, Ind. He was joking (presumably), but the idea was to celebrate people who contributed to the world of alcohol consumption, like the guy who invented the swizzle stick or the bar stool. He wanted to build the museum in Rye, New York, or Champaign, Ill., but he’s a Hoosier at heart.
Bratton amuses fellow residents
When not creating his whimsicals or sporting his walker for his self-prescribed thousand steps a day, Keith Bratton is the Dennis the Menace of his retirement facility. He often amuses his fellow diners by creating works of art with his leftover food, combining the skills of Wolfgang Puck and Picasso.
Head Server Christine Hunt said serving Bratton is a treat.
“Oh, my gosh, is he so entertaining, cheering people up at every meal,” she said.
Then she told me this: “When he first got here he told me that if I sneaked him into my car, we could go to the casino together, gamble and have some wine. How much fun would that have been?”
At a previous retirement home, he posted a sign in the lobby that said: “4 p.m. today, Room 404. How to cheat at bingo.”
Someone took it down, so Bratton had a better idea, another sign of his creativity: “2 p.m. Tuesday, Room 301. Bingo Practice.”
My frequent lunches with Bratton remind me that even though we all are running out of time, we don’t have to be running out of ideas.