Friday, November 8, 2013


“The victorious ones have said
That emptiness is the relinquishing of all views.”
    Nagarjuna, “The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”
In “The End of Your Life Book Club” Will Schwalbe wrote that his critically ill mother attended a lecture by the Dalai Lama and learned about the ideal of emptiness formulated by the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna some 2,200 years ago.

Researching the history of IUN’s Hawthorn Hall for a graduate writing course with Pat Buckler, Karen Newlin was looking for human-interest stories.  I gave her a copy of the Shavings issue I did with Paul Kern, “Educating the Calumet Regional,” which mentions the cancer scare, slow elevator problems, and completely replacing the outside surface due to defects that caused sizeable chunks to fall to the ground.  Our section, “Problems with Hawthorn,” contains quotes from Hazel Malone (Nursing), Margaret Skurka (Allied Health), Alan Barr (English), and Dave Holland (Physical Plant).

I attended a Connectionz (formerly Rainbow Connectionz) meeting at the Robin Hass Birky Women’s Center. A full slate of officers was present plus numerous other members, mostly female but including two guys.  The President claimed that students are leaving IU Northwest because they perceive it as less than a welcoming place.  One young woman with a butch haircut said to another similarly coiffed, “I’m so glad that there’s now two of us on campus.”  The group is planning an LGBTQ talent show and looking for a new faculty adviser now that Anne Balay has been given the axe. 

The latest scholar to praise “Steel Closets” is John D’Emilio, co-author of “A History of Sexuality in America, who wrote: “A breathtakingly original book.  Through oral histories that are eloquent, dramatic, and full of surprises, Anne Balay constructs a compelling story of class, gender, and sexuality that is unlike anything I have read before.  It is a fascinating study that has the page-turning quality of a novel packed with unforgettable, real-life individuals.”

Indiana Historical Society Press grad student intern Elena Rippel was fact checking a manuscript that claims the city of Gary was hit hard in the 1970s by the decline of the auto industry, as well as other stagflation nationally and foreign competition from steel corporations.   The auto industry angle was a new one to me, so I asked former steelworker and union official Mike Olszanski.  He responded: “As I remember it, the steel industry in the '70's was mainly crying about being undersold by the Japanese steelmakers due to their greater productivity.  The Japanese were using the latest technology, while U.S. steel makers were still using pre-war open-hearth furnaces because they had failed to reinvest in new equipment.  I suppose auto was a factor, but I don't remember it being a decisive factor.  It was actually the push by U.S. steel producers for higher productivity (by combining and eliminating jobs and closing facilities) that put thousands of steelworkers on the street.  From a working class perspective, I would say U.S. Steel improved its productivity and profitability on the backs of thousands of laid off and permanently eliminated steelworkers, while helping to kill Gary in the process.  USS today makes more steel (and more money) than it did in the '70's--with somewhere around 1/5 the number of workers.  Great for them, not so good for steelworkers or for Gary, either.”
 Rick Drew tour of City Methodist Church, photo by Michael Kappel

In “Charting Old Territory,” an article in the July 2013 issue of Lake Michigan Shore Carolyn Purnell wrote: “When the steel industry crashed in the 1970s Gary suffered from significant job shortage, and . . . a dropping population, the loss of business, and the resultant economic effects have left this once-booming town with a number of abandoned sites.”  Rick Drew took fellow photographers on a tour that included City Methodist Church, Ambassador Apartments, and the old Gary post office.  Photographer Chuck Walla recalled visiting a childhood friend in the Ambassador and playing basketball at City Methodist’s Seaman Hall before the church closed in 1975.

Tom Higgins dropped off his book “The Fabric of Froebel,” dedicated to longtime coach and athletic director John W. Kyle.  Tom inscribed it: “Research, research, research.  I learned at the knee of the Steel Shavings master.  ENJOY.”  How nice.  In the intro he gives credit to the late Coach George Maddock, formerly part of the weekly breakfast contingent at the Viking Chili Bowl in Valparaiso, for persuading him to undertake the project.  Previously Tom did a similar book on his alma mater, Gary Emerson.  Higgins wrote that six years after Gary was founded and immigrants began seeking employment opportunities in the steel mills, “Froebel would begin as a reflection of that merge of students from these families, enrolling in an environment that duplicated the make-up of the population.  It was the only school to do so.”

Karen Traeger of American for Democratic Action (ADA) found a photo of former Congressman Jim Jontz linked to my blog and wanted permission to use it on a website advertising a fellowship program named for him.  ADA president for three years beginning in 1998, Jontz, according to Traeger, “spearheaded a community organizing project.”  That was so like him.  Steve McShane was out of the office, but I knew the photo appeared in Ray Boomhower’s biography of Jontz and confirmed from him that indeed it came from the Jontz collection in the Calumet Regional Archives.
above, Sara Josephine Baker; below, I.A.R. "Ida" Wylie
In the introduction to a new edition of Sara Josephine Baker’s memoir “Fighting For Life” Helen Epstein declares that Baker, head of the NYC Health Department’s Bureau of Child Hygiene, literally saved countless thousands of lives.  An innovator in how to treaty abandoned babies and in combating contagious diseases, she ministered to the children of immigrants living on the infamous Lower East Side, home to as many as 6,000 people to a single block, which, citing urban reformer Jacob A. Riis (the subject of my PhD dissertation), was “a world of bad smells, scooting rats, ash barrels, dead goats, and little boys drinking beer out of milk cartons.”  Baker bore more than a passing resemblance to Theodore Roosevelt.  Her “beloved companion” (the Victorian euphemism for lesbian) was romance novelist I. A. R. “Ida” Wylie, who admitted in her memoirs: I have always liked women better than men. I am more at ease with them and more amused by them. I too am rather bored by a conventional relationship, which seems to involve either my playing up to someone or playing down to someone.”

Cars were lined up at GoLo gas station on Broadway up from IUN, where the price of a gallon of gas was just $2.95.

1 comment:

  1. mike olszanski nailed it...i was working in the #1 bop shop in the summer and early autumn of 1976 teeming steel into ingot molds for ingots bound for the old rolling mills ( billet mill, 40" blooming mill. rail mill, etc. ( which are now a large field of slag ) when usx brought the continuous caster on line basically using technology to kill off thousands of jobs including mine...economic contraction is an old story in northwest indiana