Monday, January 25, 2016

Region Proud

The scenic Lake Michigan views,
The Dunes sand in my shoes,
The tradition of steel
And the political deal;
Where Chanute first took flight
So others could get it Wright.”
         Phil Wieland

A clever poem by Phil Wieland appeared in a NWI Times feature called “NWI is Region Proud.” References to Gary include mention of gambling casinos and Michael Jackson being a lad there “before he became so “Bad” – a reference to the King of Pop’s 1987 album and subsequent world tour encompassing 123 performances on four continents.  Wieland’s poem concludes:
Fine dining, history and culture galore
Await you outside your door.
I could go on, the reasons are legion
For why we should all love our Region.

The Times wants me to contribute a piece for the “Region Proud” column.  After mulling the offer over, here’s what I came up with:

  Experiencing Northwest Indiana in all its richness for the first time in 1970 as a newly hired professor of History at IU Northwest, I was struck by the Region’s blue-collar flavor and impressed by its ethnic and racial diversity.  I soon learned about the city of Gary’s rich, albeit, brief history since its founding by U.S. Steel Corporation in 1906: its progressive schools under Superintendent William A. Wirt; labor union struggles and triumphs; racial progress under black leadership, beginning with the election of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher.  On the flip side, I have lamented its travails as a Hoosier stepchild in an age of de-industrialization, neglected and disrespected by downstate officials.  Though a tough environment, especially for those struggling to find work and raise families, Gary in the past has afforded opportunities for a host of athletes (i.e., George Taliaferro, Alex Karras), actors (Karl Malden, Avery Brooks), musicians (Pookie Hudson, Michael Jackson), entrepreneurs (Vivian Carter, Andrew Means), and other notables (including astronaut Frank Borman and Nobel laureates Paul Samuelson and Joseph Stiglitz) who have achieved success elsewhere.  Even more impressive are those who stayed and became community pillars, such as the recently deceased historian Dharathula “Dolly” Millender and Coach Claude Taliaferro.  While some lament what the city has lost, I see a ray of hope for development of Gary’s lakefront, airport, and academic corridor, and even possibilities for its commercial rebirth.
 Line dancing at DC's; NWI Times photo by John Luke
NWI Times feature writer Vanessa Renderman is parting ways with the paper after ten years.  I wonder if she was forced out, like so many other talented writers and editors.  Her last story dealt with the closing on January 30 of DC’s Country Junction, a Lowell honkytonk where since 1975 live bands have been playing country music and people have been line dancing.  Merle Haggard once performed at DC's.  Renderman wrote:
  There were some cowboy hats in the crowd, but camo coats, flannel shirts, cowboy boots, Carhartt jackets and camo baseball hats were more common attire.
What hasn't changed is the traditional call-and-answer of DC's twist on the Hank Williams Jr. tune “Family Tradition.”
“Why do you drink?” the band sings.
“To get drunk!” the crowd shouts.
“Why do you roll smoke?” the band sings.
“To get stoned!” the crowd shouts.
The song continues, and instead of singing the line, “It's a family tradition," the band sings, "It's a DC's tradition.”


The 1975, a band from Manchester, England, that soon-to-be grandson-in-law Josh Leffingwell introduced me to, has a current song that made Rolling Stones’ Playlist -  “Ugh!”  - from a forthcoming album titled “I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It.”  “Girls,” on their self-titled 2013 CD contains these lyrics: “She can’t be what you need if she’s 17.  They’re just girls.”  Good advice.  The band’s “The City” contains the line: “Community service was the best job he ever had.”  Clever.

Even Donald Trump himself is amazed at the things he can say and get away with.  The latest: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”  It’s almost as if he’s tired of running for president and trying unsuccessfully to torpedo his own campaign.  His latest stunt is boycotting the debate that FOX is hosting.
 above, USS Essex; below John Sullivan

From a Post-Trib SALT column by Jeff Manes about Porter County Museum coordinator Megan Telligman I learned that Porter County was named for David Porter, commander of The USS Essex, a sailing frigate during the War of 1812.  Noting that the historical exhibit contained information on Indian removal (The Trail of Death) during the 1830s and the Ku Klux Klan activities in Valpo during the 1920s, Manes wrote: “I have the highest respect for Megan Telligman and the rest of the staff at the Porter County Museum because they refuse to sugarcoat our past.  It’s unfortunate that some history books were written by liars.”  On a lighter note Manes asked Megan about photos of Valpo native “Bronco” John Sullivan, a Wild West Show performer, and one from the Calumet Regional Archives taken in 1922 at Gary’s Bailly Library of kids celebrating their ethnic heritage.  As Manes wrote: Each student is holding his or her own sign: Croatian, Bulgarian, Spanish, Jewish, Lithuanian, Czech-Slovak, Hungarian, Austrian, German, Mexican, Italian, Russian, Polish, Greek, Romanian... . The melting pot.”
Jeff Manes recently asked if I could write a blurb for a forthcoming volume of his series “All Worth Their Salt.”  I appeared in volume one and son Dave evidently will be in volume two.  Here is what I came up with: 
With his blue-collar perspective, no-nonsense sensibility, and Region wit, Jeff Manes is a consummate interviewer.  Curious, persistent, and a good listener with an ear for the catchy phrase or telling insight, he turns his interactions into a shared experience among equals.  What he achieves, without pomposity or artifice, is contemporary social history of the highest order - or, to quote scholar Jesse Lemisch, "history from the bottom up."

I ate well over the weekend, first a taco salad at Round the Clock with Dave and James after bowling, then steaks on the grill at Wades with salad and Darcey’s incomparable potato salad.  Sunday I cooked bacon, scrambled eggs, potato pancakes, and mushrooms and chopped onions.  At Hagelbergs for bridge Cheryl made a pasta dish with turkey, tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms, served with a salad and delicious bread.  Dick and I caught the exciting AFC championship: despite Tom Brady’s heroics Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos will get a chance for a second Superbowl ring against the Carolina Panthers.  It would match Broncos executive and former QB John Elway’s pair.
 photo by Raymond Smock

Several friends out East posted Facebook photos of the historic blizzard that dumped as much as three feet of snow on some communities.  From West Virginia Ray Smock noted: “We will not be entertaining on our deck this weekend.”

Chris Young has taken over Micah Pollak’s Economic History course.  Since economic development has always been part of his American History courses, he’s enjoying the opportunity to interact with Business majors.   Nicole Anslover asked me to speak in her History Methods course.  When I taught the course, I invited departmental colleagues to discuss researching in their particular fields.  She thought that was a good idea.

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