Monday, May 4, 2015


“I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.  The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

In a front page article commemorating the Works Progress Administration (WPA) 80 years after it became the New Deal’s most important relief agency to ameliorate unemployment during the Great Depression, Times reporter Joyce Russell highlighted Region projects still in use, such as the Hammond Civic Center, murals in Crown Point and Hobart post offices, and a Michigan City Zoo staircase.  To its credit the WPA employed artists, writers, actors, musicians, and even historians in imaginative ways that made use of their talents.  Russell quoted me as saying:

To look at the WPA, you have to look at the philosophy behind it.  FDR knew people wanted to work and felt it was better to have a program that put people to work than put people on the dole.  Before FDR came into office, there was hopelessness.  He wanted people to maintain hope, but give them dignity instead of a total handout.  Some people said it was make work, but it was the kind of work people could go home and say they did something that day.
 above, Hammond Civic Center; below, Hobart post office; NWI Times photos by Jonathan Miano and John J. Watkins
Russell also interviewed Purdue North Central historian Michael Connelly, who stressed the controversial nature of the WPA, at least among Republicans.  Russell could find no evidence of WPA projects in Porter County, a Republican stronghold during the 1930s.  Connelly told her, “The program was meant to help, but it was so broad – hiring artists and playwrights – made it enormously controversial.  People were asking if this was the appropriate way to spend federal money.  There were cases where the WPA workers were doubling as campaign workers.”

Chesterton’s European Market opened to perfect weekend weather, and I ran into Peter Aglinskas, who’d just bought a carload of perennials to plant.  At Speedway I picked up mulch and helped Toni spread it over wild flower seeds.  Sunday reached 80 and was not even cooler by the lake when we visited Hagelbergs for dinner and bridge.

Time’s cover showed Baltimore cops in riot gear and a young black man fleeing from them.  The caption read “America, 1968” but with a line through “1968” and “2015” superimposed in blood red.  Inside was an interview with Travis Smiley, who concluded:

These riots aren’t a black or white thing – they’re a humanity thing, a dignity thing.  When the mayor and the police chief and the President cannot explain to fellow black citizens why Freddie Gray is dead, somebody’s got to be held accountable.
  Protests and riots – uprisings – could become the new normal.  Welcome to the new America.

The Time staff mourned the passing of film critic Richard Corliss, who loved all kind of movies except slick, feel-good tear jerkers, which he labeled “masterpieces of emotional pornography.”  Editor Nancy Gibbs stated that (like me) words were his tools, “to the point that it felt sometimes as though he had to write, like the rest of us breathe and eat and sleep.”  Corliss loved Bette Midler, calling her “a 5ft.1 in. Statue of Libido, carrying a torch with a blue flame.”  Comic Steve Martin, Corliss succinctly wrote, “filters laugh-a-minute zaniness through Redford good looks: goy meets Berle.”  Solid gold characterization.

In an Ayers Realty Newsletter column Judy Ayers wrote about her Croatian hairdresser’s attempt, after attending a Face and Body Expo at Chicago’s McCormick Place, to give her an “edgy Half Hawk” cut (Hawk being short for Mohawk), insisting that her friends would like it.  “I reminded her,” Judy said, “of my age and that there isn’t a part of my being that falls into the edgy category.  I have no bandage pants, no studs, tattoos or piercings and I have no clothes that sport band logos.”  Judy’s spring recipe was for chicken enchiladas topped with sour cream, green salsa, shredded cheddar cheese, tomato bits, and avocado slices.

Bill Buckley’s poem, “Echoes on the Banging Rim of Steel,” a copy of which he gave to the Archives, makes a reference to Native Americans, the area’s first residents and implies that steelworkers might similarly vanish from the scene:

the Indian blood that only now whispers in the trees,
  mingling it thin and whispery
by the streams and trees and ancient mounds
and battlefields, where pow-wows carry drum beats up from Kankakee
and Tippecanoe to Miramac,          
signaling across the waves to the magic glass Chicago,
and quarried in the limestone blocks dumped on shores for the battering
            waves in their sudden storms and winds, greening air with arctic tang,
            greening fields with rain, blue and wetting the old brick buildings
standing in their hot Plains architecture, and raining on the heads
of crop-eared boys in their lettered jackets, cruising in convertibles
              under copper moons and hazy stars,
cruising to their general futures on the oily grids of manufactured consent.

Live echoes in the 60,000 millhand mouths from the throats of their departure
            calling through the trains and frosted leaves and tassels
            calling through the cinder winds and smoking scrubbers
            calling in the dirty rivers and tender duties,
            calling in their halls and hammers and sudden deaths,
calling in their brawls and middle-class collapse,
calling through their children and from the pounding graves,
            calling in their shops and borrowed garages,
            calling through the crumbling tombs of greasy generations,
on the banging rims of their tinned and winter souls,
                        by the tilting Great Lake
            mirroring in the flatness of its bottle-green surface
the aching depths of their tightened faces, and shortened lives.
Retired steelworker Mike “Oz” Olszanski posted a photo of his parents, Sylvester and Elizabeth, on Facebook.  His dad grew up in Poland and came to America around 1917.  A previous wife died of TB, and Oz’s mother was about 20 years younger than her husband.  Oz’s dad was a common laborer at Standard Railway in north Hammond on Columbia Avenue, walking distance from where they lived because he didn’t drive.  In an interview published in a Steel Shavings issue Oz co-edited with me, “Steelworker Fight Back,” he told me:

By the time I was three, my dad was building a place at 4539 Johnson, literally digging the hole for the basement with a shovel.  One of my earliest memories is of him throwing the dirt out and me throwing it back in.  He put a roof on the basement, and we moved in.  The place was right next to the South Shore tracks in a Polish neighborhood.

The plan was we’d save our money and go upstairs, but every time he saved some money, something happened, like my sister got polio.  I grew up in a basement with a flat roof on the top and tarpaper.  It was actually pretty deep and came out of the ground a little bit.  It was small, but we were happy there. 

My father was joyous, very happy-go-lucky.  He always managed to have a good time.  He’d do all the polkas with other Polish ladies while my mother sat and watched.  He’d go around and around the floor until I thought he’d drop.  My mother worked at St. Catherine’s as a nurse’s aid and in the kitchen.  My father was old-fashioned and didn’t want her to work, but we needed the money.

My father talked to me a lot, like I was his confidant.  I knew his whole life story before I was 12.  Half the time, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I later figured it out and really valued it.  He told me to work in a union shop; otherwise, “they’ll work you to death and can fire you any time.”  He was an FDR Democrat but with an anti-capitalist twist.  Once I asked, “How do you decide who to vote for?”  He said, “I vote for the Democrats.”  I always knew I was a member of the working class.

He told me that soon after he came to America, he married a woman who turned out to be a hooker.  When he found out, he got a quickie divorce.  He could not get an annulment since he didn’t have his baptismal papers from Poland.  Up until the year he died, the Catholic Church would not let him get married in the church or receive the sacraments.  These old Polish priests would not bend the rules.  For a long time he held a grudge.  When he was literally on his deathbed, a young priest cut the red tape somehow and my parents got married.
Lew Wallace alumni Diana Rudd-Martin and Kathleen Waligura have started a wiki site concerning their recently closed alma mater.  Concerning the school’s name, Rich Paskash claimed that Principal Verna Hoke polled students on who to name the school after and General Lew Wallace received the most votes. I doubt, however, that Superintendent William A. Wirt, would leave the naming of one of his unit schools up to the whims of students. The building was designed by architect William B. Ittner, and the site provideds this history of its origins:

In 1921, Wirt selected a 25-acre site to develop a school for the Glen Park area, and the first classes were held at what was then called “The 45th Avenue School” in fall of 1923. Glen Park was a rapidly growing area of Gary at that time, and by 1924, 8 portable building were added to house a total of more than 700 students. In 1926, the West Building was added and housed a gym and an auditorium, and in 1927, the name was changed to Lew Wallace School and included complete high school classes. Verna Hoke, the first female principal in the Gary school system was hired and began her long tenure.

Spring semester is over and there are no more of Nicole Anslover’s classes to attend.  She and I are huge “Mad Men” fans and loved the latest episode where Peggy roller skates around the office the firm is vacating and then sashays into her new firm with a cigarette dangling from her mouth.  Nicole emailed: “Thank you for making the time to come to class so often.  I really appreciated it, and I know that the students did, too.”  Anne Balay added: “The kids in Nicole’s class, and all the kids at IUN are lucky to have you. You have curiosity, you have courage, and you’re willing to engage with them in meaningful ways.”  Nice.

In his research on Swedes in Porter County Ken Schoon came upon a mystery photo that he guesses dates from around 1920 but could have been taken earlier or later.  Schoon wondered if I recognized any of the people (sorry, no) and added: “To me it looks like it might have been taken at a political rally.”   I replied that it looked like a wine tasting or wine making event, so far as the man with the cigar was concerned.  


  1. The above mentioned Lew Wallace wiki can be found at

  2. "Russell could find no evidence of WPA projects in Porter County, a Republican stronghold during the 1930s."

    This is a bit true and false. There were two CCC camps in Porter County; one camp was located at the Indiana Dunes State Park (CCC 1563 DSP-1) and another located near the old Porter County Fairgrounds along Calumet Road in Valparaiso (CCC 1583 D-4, later renamed 1583 SCS-20).

    The reason no "artifacts" or "remnants" from CCC work in Porter County are clearly visible today is because nearly all the work in Porter County involved ditching, installing field tile (drainage tile) on farm land, and various soil conservation practices (e.g., planting shrub windbreaks to reduce soil loss).

    A fire tower was constructed in the Dunes State Park, but was later dismantled.

    Monthly publications for the Valparaiso CCC can be found here:

    Also, The Federal Writers Project, part of the WPA, was actively involved in Porter County. There is a hard copy file (and microfilm) of their complete work located at Indiana State University (if I recall correctly, over 1,000 pages). The "Calumet Region Historical Guide," published Garman Printing Company in Gary in 1939, contains numerous pieces written by writers headquartered in Porter County.