Friday, March 18, 2016

Au Naturel

 “What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful that the garment with which it is clothed?” Michelangelo Buonarroti
 Medici Tombs sculptures by Michelangelo
When Michelangelo painted male nudes on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in The Last Judgment, religious conservatives were displeased and after his death ordered draperies painted over most of the exposed genitals and buttocks.  When the painting was restored a generation ago, the Catholic Church chose modesty over, in the words of art critic Jonathan Jones, “a chance to remove the additions and reveal the full glory of the resurrected flesh.”

In the March 2016, issue of Journal of American History David Allyn reviewed Brian Hoffman’s “Naked: A Cultural History of American Nudism.” Allyn includes this quote by Hoffman:
  To grow and prosper in the United States, American nudism negotiated the fluid boundaries of sexual liberalism by architecting an appearance of respectable normalcy even as many of its early advocates supported sexual experimentation, radical politics, and homosexuality.
I recall Adult movie theaters in the 1950s and 1960s showing films of nudists seemingly devoid of sexuality playing volleyball and exercising.  Ironically, according to Hoffman, the family-oriented nature of the nudist movement became its greatest liability, “as officials have begun to worry loudly about the inherent potential for child exploitation at family-oriented nudist resorts.”
 above, drawing by Dale Fleming; below, "Dune Faun" by M.P. Waldron
In 2013 I wrote an article for South Shore Journal entitled “The Dune Faun: Diana of the Dunes’ Male Counterpart,” about a naked beachcomber whom author Webb Waldron encountered in the 1920s.  In a section titled “Au Naturel” I wrote:
      During the Roaring Twenties a group of intrepid young women living near Michigan City formed a group called the Dune Dancers.  According to area resident Don Van Vomen, “Their claim to fame, shocking in those days, was to dance on the beach in very shear veils.  One by one in the moonlight, as dusk was coming, they would release their veils until they were dancing nude.”  At this same time male clubs formed whose members embraced the physical culture movement and commonly disrobed when away from gawking strangers.  Some were open to those who embraced a gay or bisexual lifestyle.
      Nudism as a social movement spread from Germany to the United States during the 1920s as a healthy way of counterbalancing the stresses of modern industrialized, urban life.  In contrast with Europe, where social nudism eventually gained a large measure of acceptance, in America self-appointed guardians of morality viewed displays of nudity in a sexual context as immoral.  Even so, during the 1930s the largest nudist club in America, the Zoro Nature Park, opened in Northwest Indiana.
 giant sundial at Naked City
Every couple years during the 1970s the Post-Tribune would do an exposé on Naked City in Roselawn, sometimes at the time of their annual Miss Nude U.S.A. contest.  According to P-T editor Dean Bottorff, reporters would scramble for the assignment.  In an interview Vietnam Veteran L.T. Wolf told me about visiting Naked City in 1972 with neighbor Diane, who was first runner-up in its Miss Nude U.S.A. contest.
  You drove a good distance and just left your clothes in your car.  The only clothes people had on were shoes or sandals.  A bunch of people, from children to grandparents were walking around or playing games like volleyball.  It was pretty boring and depressing.  The wild goings-on, I heard later from Diana, were behind closed doors and reserved for certain select long-time members.  The average person wasn’t going to get anywhere near them.

During the 1980s IUN professor John Dustman took students in a Human Sexuality class to nudist camps in Roselawn.  The purpose, he claimed, was to expose them to inaccuracies in people’s minds as to what’s going on.  Interviewed for my oral history of IU Northwest (Steel Shavings, volume 35, 2004), Dustman said:
      One year I took 16 students to Naked City, the biggest damn truck stop that didn’t sell gas you ever saw.  On a tour a 15 year-old kid was talking about orgies, and it was sleazy.  Of course, this was my intent.  Guys were gesturing to us to join their group.  There was a unisex bathroom with no doors on stalls.  A couple students went in and quickly came out, saying they could wait.
      We went to a legitimate place, and the husband and wife owners and a 90 year-old geriatric conducted the tour.  They’d run ahead to explain why clothed people were walking through.  We ended up at the volleyball court and swimming pool.  It was a hot July day.  I went in to get a copy of the rules.  When I got back, my students were in the pool.  Being a professor, I couldn’t join them.
I love book reviews that dare to be different.  Writing about Steven Dillon’s “Wolf-Women and Phantom Ladies: Female Desire in 1940s U.S. Culture” in the Journal of American History, Paula Rabinowitz, author of “American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street” (2014) passed on this personal information:
  Toward the end of her life, my mother (with the maiden name Wolf) spent hours watching movies from her youth on television; she was obsessed with Howard Hawkes’s To Have and Have Not (1944).  Turning 16 just weeks after Pearl Harbor was bombed, she spent the war as a Brooklyn College student, marrying soon after V-J Day, then worked as a social worker in the New York City Welfare Office and an auditor for the Textile Workers’ Union of America until her first daughter was born a decade later.   She was fascinated by the film world she had spent hours viewing with her girlfriends as they wiled away the war in a city emptied of men.  In 1944, her contemporary, the 19 year-old Lauren Bacall, looked far more sophisticated than my bespectacled mother when, in the film, she leaned into jaded Humphrey Bogart’s room and reminded him that all he needed to do was whistle.  Bacall’s casual sexiness and brazen seductiveness still amazed her; how could she compete?  She may have been called Wolf, but to Hollywood, my mother was a mere phantom.

Over the IUN library public address system I heard someone say, “Will Terrance Durousseau please report to the circulation desk.”  Durousseau was a student of mine 13 years ago, and I had used an excerpt from his “Ides of March” journal in “Gary’s First Hundred Years.”  I rushed down to catch him, but he had already departed.  Here’s an excerpt from his journal:
      While working at Church’s Fried Chicken, a man reeking of alcohol placed an order and then asked for a refund, claiming what he got was not what he wanted.  Then he placed a smaller order and pretended he’d been short-changed.  He asked for the manager, Ali, who checked the bleed-box, where 20-dollar bills are dropped as soon as they are collected.  It was empty, but the man still left in an outrage.  I got a call from my older brother Cool Breeze thanking me for his birthday gift of ten dollars and the funny card featuring a woman in a bikini on the front.  It said, “Tammie is going to remove her top for your birthday.”  Inside was a chimpanzee named Tammie.

At bowling Frank Shrufran needed to double in the final frame for the Engineers to win a second game and series.  He came through, so we picked up five points rather than just two.  My best game was a 158; my score was 96 after five frames but then had three splits.

Steve McShane and I spoke to a dozen Archives visitors from Twenty-First Century Charter School about a class project on Gary. Steve showed photos of the building and operation of Gary Works and discussed reasons U.S. Steel chose Northwest Indiana as that Midwestern site for its state-of-the-art new integrated plant.  Because student are researching white flight, I mentioned that geographical mobility has been a constant in American history and involved both push and pull factors.  From its earliest days Gary residents sought to escape the pollution and overcrowding and relocate to neighborhoods both within and outside the city – opportunities denied African Americans until the mid-1960s for most Gary neighborhoods.  Beginning in the 1980s, “black flight” to Merrillville, Griffith, Portage, and other previously all-white suburbs drained Gary of many middle-class families.  The students had so many questions I didn’t get to have them recite, as planned, from “Gary’s First Hundred Years.”

At Gardner Center in Miller Jeff Manes had a reading and book-signing for “All Worth Their Salt: The People of NWI, volume II.”  I read lines from his 2012 interview with son Dave, who mentioned being close friends with fellow East Chicago Central teacher (now retired) Leon Kendrick, whose interview also appears.  On hand was John Bianchi, who worked 38 years in Inland’s Steel’s coke plant.  Bianchi, Manes wrote: “walks with a cane these days.  He attributes that to years of working underneath the pusher and the door machine changing shear bolts and the countless times he carried a pair of 60-pound idlers to the top of the coal handling section of the coke plant.” 

Also on hand was Mary Kay Emmrich, whose parents owned the Hilltop Bar in Morocco, located in Newton County.  Nicknamed the Bucket of Blood, the Hilltop, Mary Kay told Manes, “was a farmers bar.  Papa always said if there was dirt under the bar stools, there was money in the register because the farmers had been in.”  Cullen Ben-Daniel read the lines of Jack Gross, who came to America in 1940 at age 6 and graduated from Gary Horace Mann in 1952.  He told Manes:
  When I was growing up, people bought their groceries on credit.  They worked in the mill or a place that supported the mills.  After a couple weeks, when they got paid, they’d pay their grocery bill – same thing with clothes.  Everything was credit.  There was a mutual trust.  But sometimes people would up and move – you lost money.  If a person is working, they can pay; if they’re not working, they can’t pay. What are you going to do?

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