Friday, June 19, 2015

A Vanished Community

“I love the quiet.  It has a very soothing effect on me.  There’s no traffic, no people; all you hear are trains, barges, ships.  Last year, I watched a herd of 8-10 deer running across the dunes, and I swear it sounded like a herd of buffalo.”  Michael Halpin shortly before his Edgewater Leaseback expired
 Dale Fleming drawing

Michael Halpin, a steelworker for many years, took a course with me in the early 1970s and went on to become an attorney.  He was our Edgewater neighbor, and his friendly dog Charlie often dropped by.  While Halpin supported the 1976 Park Expansion Bill, he told John Laue that he lamented the loss of privacy.  “You could walk into the area where the West Beach parking lot is now,” he said, “and feel like you were in the middle of Saudi Arabia.”

For a Portage Historical Society talk on “Edgewater: A Vanished Community” I’ve been researching one of Edgewater’s first residents, the remarkable John O. Bowers.  Born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, in 1860 on property too barren to qualify as a farm, he never knew his father, who died when he was an infant, and his mother taught school for a pittance to keep the family afloat.  Bowers himself taught school but came to Indiana during the 1880s to study law at Northern Indiana Normal School, the forerunner of Valparaiso University.  He graduated in 1889, and after a teaching stint in Montana became principal of the Whiting schools.  In 1894 he married teacher Nellie Blackman and then served as a deputy prosecutor and judicial referee while maintaining a private law practice in Hammond. 

Judge Bowers (as he preferred to be addressed) moved to Gary in 1910 and purchased properties near Lake Michigan in both Lake and Porter counties.  An advocate for Dunes Highway (Route 12) and protection of dunelands, he sold holdings north of Chesterton to the state of Indiana at a reduced price to help create Dunes State Park.  He envisaged scenic lakeside communities and hoped Edgewater might develop into what Ogden Dunes and Dune Acres became.  Longtime president of Gary Historical Society, Bowers wrote articles on “The Old Bailly Homestead” and “Dream Cities of the Calumet.” He died in 1930, and it fell to 27 year-old John Bowers, Jr., a tax accountant married to Hazel Knotts Bowers, daughter of Gary’s first mayor, to develop the family's Edgewater holdings.

John Laue interviewed Jerry Myers, a retired steelworker and neighbor of Bowers who lived atop a sand dune reached by “Suicide Hill,” so-named because kids rode bikes down it at top speed.  Myers recalled:
  Although the Edgewater subdivision was originally laid out in the 1920s, the area didn’t take off until the early 1950s.  John Bowers owned a lot of land, but he was cut off from the road system because Inland Steel and Consumer Sand Company owned all the property around him.
  When Bowers started building, he brought in all the materials by boat because he couldn’t get across Inland Steel’s property.  Once the houses were built, he petitioned the state to construct a road to connect the houses to Oak Avenue to the west.  Inland Steel did everything they could to block John, but he was a sly fox and outmaneuvered them by building the homes first.  John wanted to develop this area into a large subdivision and do some sand mining himself, but the local government wouldn’t agree.  I think they were backed by Inland Steel, which did everything they could to fight John.
  The Edgewater Improvement Association was founded by John Bowers, primarily to do his dirty work.  But the Association became a real citizen’s group and fought some good fights.  It was a good example of how citizen involvement can make a real difference, especially in local issues like rezoning.  Without them, this community would have undergone some drastic, negative changes.  A lot of the natural character would have been destroyed.  We blocked several proposals to rezone County Line for business.  Once a piece of property gets zoned for business, it’s very hard to stop other businesses from coming in.
above, Bowers Redwood Home; below, Spanish Castle.  Drawings by Dale Fleming 

Archives intern John Hmurovic informed me that as a young man A.F. Knotts, a friend of John Bowers, was a Kankakee Marsh guide to celebrities such as General Lew Wallace and president Benjamin Harrison.  Like Bowers, Knotts invested heavily in Porter County lakefront property, established Mineral Springs Resort and opened a track for horse racing in present-day Porter only to have Indiana’s governor ordered it closed.  In 1923 he moved to Florida and founded Yankeetown.

Like his father, John O. Bowers, Jr., became active in historical preservation and cared about environmental issues.  He favored Edgewater being annexed by Portage during the 1950s and was an advocate for creating the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, authorized by Congress in 1966.  The Knotts-Bowers collection in the Calumet Regional Archives contains correspondence where Bowers listed his address as 10115 Maple Place.  It was five blocks due east of our house, only a deep ravine lay in between.  The Bowers “Redwood Home” had beautiful wood paneling, and some of us vainly hoped it might morph into a conference center or home for park officials, but down it came. Some former homes (ours included) still haven’t been demolished, but ones residents tried to save, including the “Spanish Castle” at Oak and County Line, came down with obscene haste.

The community of scholars I knew at IUN is vanishing, Dee Dee Ige Campbell being the latest retiree.  Will the Glen Park home of IUN become a vanished community as online courses threaten to render central campuses obsolete?  I sincerely hope not, but some professors aren’t teaching a single course in the classroom.  From time to time there is talk of merger with Purdue and relocating the campus elsewhere, but being near both the Borman Expressway and I-65 makes the present site ideal, especially if the University Park initiative comes to fruition.

In a “Congratulation Message” for Dee Dee Ige Campbell, who started at IUN in 1985, Dean Mark Hoyert wrote:
  Dee Dee rose through the ranks of the academy following the ideal career trajectory, made significant and substantive contributions to teaching, scholarship, and service and was promoted from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor and then to Professor. She has excelled as a researcher, keynote speaker, and corporate trainer. She published books and articles in top-tier journals. She delivered more than 300 speeches to local, national, and international organizations. This includes addresses in China, Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jerusalem, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, and seven Caribbean Islands.
  She has served in a large number of significant leadership positions including President of the Faculty Organization, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, and President of the National Communication Association’s Black Caucus.
  In all of these activities, Dee Dee remained a steadfast champion of the teaching mission of the university. That role, of course, began in the classroom. Dee Dee has always been known as the best instructor in the Communication department and as one of the best teachers in the university. Dee Dee helped found the Department, served as its first chair, and has always been a vital member. She also founded the bi-annual Speech Forum, the COAS Faculty Research and Service Awards, the COAS Research Conference, and the IU Northwest Communication Association (pronounced INCA).
  Dee Dee has been honored with numerous campus, national, and international awards in partial recognition of this work. This includes the Founder’s Day Teaching Award, induction into FACET, a Trustee’s Teaching Award, the Athena Community Service Award, the George Pinnell Award for Service, the National Communication Association Research Award, the National Communication Association Service Award, and the College of Arts and Sciences Service Award.
  Dee Dee has decided to retire after these many years and contributions. Please join me in thanking Dee Dee for her work, congratulate her on her accomplishments, and wish her a hearty bon-voyage as she embarks upon the next several projects.

I prefaced my short talk to Steve McShane’s class by repeating two oft-made assertions: that Gary was a great place to have been from (hence the many famous native sons and daughters nurtured by Gary teachers) and that talented residents benefitted from its proximity to Chicago, economically, culturally, and as a path to greater accomplishments.  As examples, I profiled freedom fighter Thyra Edwards and Oscar winner Karl Malden.  Shakespearean actor William Marshall credits his Aunt Thyra taking him to a Broadway play with sparking his lifelong love of the theater.   A 1931 Emerson senior class president and thesbian, Malden broke his nose playing basketball (hence the bulbous honker that type-cast him for supporting roles in classics such as “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront”), was in the Drama Club and got elected senior class president.   In all his movies Malden called someone his given name, Sekulovich, as in “Private Sekulovich” when he played General Omar Bradley in “Patton.”  A warden in “The Birdman of Alcatraz,” Malden called a prisoner Sekulovich only to infuriate his old man, who claimed: “No Sekulovich ever went to prison.”
above, Malden and Burt Lancaster; below, Marla Gee (Times photo by Suzanne Tennant)

Northwest Indiana Times ran a feature by Carmen McCollum on 62 year-old IUN grad Marla Gee entitled “Gary woman learns to work smarter.”  Marla started back to school after technology rendered her job as a medical transcriptionist obsolete.  McCullom wrote that she didn’t own a car and never learned to drive so she walked to school every day.  Praising her helpfulness as a legislative intern with the Democratic Caucus, State Representative Vernon Smith said Marla had a “bubbly personality” and “was always very personable.”  I showed the article to Archives volunteer Maurice Yancy, who thinks he may be related to her.
In Traces magazine an article analyzed a 1933 plane crash near Chesterton, just south and east of the present Toll Road exit at Route 49 in Jackson Township.  The Boeing 247 with three crew and four passengers on board exploded in midair, probably the result of someone bringing nitroglycerin on board.  The FBI  speculated that either a passenger committed suicide or that a gangster brought the explosive on board during a previous flight and hid it under blankets out of fear of being searched.  The act of sabotage has gone unsolved to this day.

Anne Tyler’s “Breathing Lessons” (1988) – about a middle-aged couple from Baltimore married 28 years - was on Chesterton Library’s cart of free books (will that be the fate of my published volumes?).  It begins: “Maggie and Ira Moran had to go to a funeral in Deer Lick, Pennsylvania.  Maggie’s girlfriend had lost her husband.”

For a change lots of folks, including many in suits, were on IUN’s campus for a trustees meeting and groundbreaking ceremony for a new Arts and Sciences building.  The threat of rain moved activities inside.  The blues band Kinsey Report had been scheduled to perform during the midday Thrill of the Grill.  Instead the TV in Moraine Student Center carried live coverage of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory celebration.  The groundbreaking took place in Savannah gym, dolled up so no basketball nets were visible.
On Jeopardy the final question asked for an American author whose autobiography, “Pioneer Girl,” was unpublished until more than a half-century after her death, and whose work inspired a popular TV series. The answer: Laura Ingalls Wilder, who published “Little House on the Prairie” in 1935.  All three contestants knew it.  I'd guessed the series but had never heard of her.
 AP photo by David Goldman

From Paris, France, Blandine Huk emailed: “Our hearts are crying with the American people after what happened in Charleston.”  A 21 year-old white supremacist, Dylann Storm Roof, killed 9 African Americans, including Reverend Clementa Pinckney, at a prayer meeting inside historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Jerry Davich wrote: “Sadly the nineteenth century celebration of Juneteenth will be tainted in black communities by the murderous actions of a twenty-first century racist . . ..  In some ways we’re all still slaves to such racist hate and domestic terrorism.”  Michael Bayer emailed: “According to news reports, all flags in South Carolina’s state capitol are flying at half mast except one: the confederate flag.  It’s way past time that symbol of the slave holders rebellion against the Union come down.”  President Obama, who knew Pastor Pinckney personally, said: “Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.  At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

Anne Balay posted lines from Virginia Hamilton’s “The People Could Fly”:
          They rose in the air.
They flew in a flock that was black
against the heavenly blue.

Region laureate William K. Buckley donated to the Archives this new poem, “On a Dune Overlooking Our Steel Mills (Lake Michigan: To my student, whose husband was killed in the mill)”:

Our mills here, of course, have our work values,
along with truths gathered from the Great Lake’s promises,
with its support of iron barges for deliveries.
Yet today, I climbed a yellow dune
to hope you would find peace disentangled from steel,
after the death of your husband
in the pit.

You told me that you wanted to run barefoot on West Beach,
looking for swans in its backwash swamps
in the hopeful green of the brackish tureen
any ground,
to muffle his factory death.

Perhaps hundreds of wives have made this trip,
to find separation in their lives
on the beaches of the famous sockdolager lake,
as if the standing heat of mills could explain husband deaths.

While the waves of Lake Michigan roll beautifully
to its own shore
as if to snuggery.

Poems like this, in “The Region,” in their dedications
to you, my student, while you rock your baby
in the red sear of our atmosphere,
Declare this:
Red-short America!
How is it that your history closes its eyes,
leaving us with our memories
to settle for the usual irony.

Tell me your secret truth:
How do you melt our iron memories,
and expect our forgiveness?

Buckley explained that “red sear” means to break or crack when red-hot, as iron when hammered.  Red-short signifies weak or brittle when red-hot, as iron or steel.  The definition of sockdolager: exceptional or a forceful blow.

I had lunch with Anne and Leah Balay at Flamingo’s.  Leah was carded even though she only drank water.  I’ll miss Anne’s farewell open house next weekend and will be in Palm Springs, CA, where the temperature is 116 degrees.  Anne showed me a rave review of “Steel Closets” by Louisiana State professor Liam Lair recently published in Oral History Review.  Here's an excerpt:
Steel Closets offers a sustained discussion of masculinity, a central lens for understanding mill workers. Balay found that women and lesbians, only a small fraction of the mills’ workforce, are more accepted because of their masculinity; this seeming contradiction can function in their favor. Women continue, however, to experience extremely high rates of sexual harassment and violence in the mill, and are met with little support. For many gay men, doing the work of the mill is a way to establish their masculinity. Gay men therefore downplay any effeminacy at work, performing instead an exaggerated masculinity. For others, masculinity was established in the mill through “male-male sexual play.” (In fact, many workers discuss same-sex sexual contact that occurred in the mills. As in the social milieu George Chauncey describes in “Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940,” the same-sex sex that Balay found in the mills does not necessarily indicate a gay identity. At the same time, her interviewees provide numerous examples of the rampant, aggressive, and often violent homophobia of the mill which requires that straight men distance themselves from any association with gayness and that they punish those who are associated with any LGBTQ identity.

No comments:

Post a Comment