When wombats do inspire
I strike my disused lyre”
Christina Georgina Rossetti
On IU Day in Moraine Student Union students were holding, petting, and cuddling various marsupials, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, including tortoises, salamanders, boa constrictors (including a rare albino specimen from Brazil), and even a wombat. Chancellor William Lowe was taking a photo of Communication instructor Ibrahim Yoldash cradling the wombat, so I told them that I’d seen a wombat in Australia. In Sydney with Toni and 13 year-old granddaughter Miranda for an oral history conference, I convinced them to go on a day-long excursion to the Blue Mountains because the brochure promised a visit to a small petting zoo where tourists could feed kangaroos. The schedule was running behind as a result of overlong shopping stops, and the bus driver announced that we’d be skipping the petting zoo. When I protested, he agreed on a 15-minute stop. Upon arrival, we rushed past the wombat and koala bears, so Miranda could interact with the kangaroos.
In his History class on the Sexual Revolution Jonathyne Briggs brought up the furor caused by a 1968 New York Times article about Linda LeClair, a student at Barnard College “shacking up” with boyfriend Peter Behr for convenience, security, and sex. After alumni vociferously complained at this violation of the college’s housing policy, LeClair was pressured into dropping out of school. Forty years later, Maggie Astor wrote in the Columbia Daily Spectator:
The controversy was only one part of a larger debate over women’s changing role in society, and critics noted the double standard between housing policies at Barnard and Columbia.
“Barnard students had to live at the dormitories, and there were some stringent curfews, and Columbia students could do whatever they wanted to,” LeClair said. “The media coverage made it into a story about sex ... but really what it was about was power and equality. There was a lot of unhappiness about the kind of patronizing attitude toward the college women that this represented.”
In Nicole Anslover’s History of the Media class students discussed a gaffe by New York City mayor Bill De Blasio. At the Inner Circle Dinner, known for off-color routines, De Blasio, who is married to an African-American lesbian, made a tasteless remark after Hillary Clinton thanked him for his endorsement. When she added, “Took you long enough,” he replied, “I was running on C.P. time” – slang for “colored people’s time.” In the script he was supposed to add, “Cautious politician time” but forgot and Hillary had to say the line.
From Ray Smock: “Hillary's campaign is now a year old. One year ago today I posted this picture of a ‘Ready for Hillary’ glass containing some Woodford Reserve Bourbon. I am still ‘Ready for Hillary,’ I still have the glass. And I await the day I can raise it again at her inauguration. Hell, why wait until then. Here's to you Hillary.” Calling me the Samuel Pepys of the Calumet Region, Ray also sent this email:
The latest issue of Steel Shavings arrived and it is another cornucopia of history, pop culture, the arts and numerous signs of our times presented with humor and wisdom. There probably isn’t anything like it on Planet Earth. In some distant time, an archeologist, either an earthling or some life form from another world, will study these volumes and reconstruct a complex portrait of humanity in the Calumet Region and beyond. Will they understand it all? Hell no. I don’t understand all of it now. But keep them coming dear friend.
Smock’s praise is one of the things that keeps me going with my blog and magazine.
Bishop Donald Hying speaks against GEO Proposal; NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano
After protestors gathered for a prayer vigil at City Hall and at a Gary Board of Zoning Appeals meeting railed against GEO’s plan for a for-profit detention center, the Board voted 3-1 to deny the nefarious company a zoning variance. According to NWI Times reporter Edwin Bierschenk, Board member Jamelba Johnson told GEO representatives, “I don’t know how you even had the nerve to ever come back.” Unfortunately the issue isn’t dead, as the Common Council can choose to ignore the Board’s recommendation. Samuel A. Love posted: “Today I've been yelled at, mildly assaulted, etc., but that's all gone after many kind words of encouragement from a political hero.”
Chesterton Tribune ace reporter Kevin Nevers can make even the most pedestrian assignment compelling and educational. In “No sidewalks on 100E makes walking perilous for Tamarack residents” he describes the plight of residents living in a small, unincorporated Porter County subdivision near town. Nevers wrote:
[They] have no good, which is to say safe, way of walking from their homes to the South Calumet Business District and the Downtown beyond.
Or to Chesterton High School.
Or, really, anywhere.
Sympathetic Chesterton Town Board member Lloyd Kittredge suggested a joint sidewalk project with county officials. In the piece Nevers employed a word unfamiliar to me – debouch – which, I leaned, comes from the French prefix “de” (from) and “bouche” (mouth) and means to emerge from a narrow space into a wide, open area, as military troops on the march or a river debouching into the sea.
Speaking to Steve McShane’s class on the Calumet Region between 1945 and 1953, I brought up the Postwar juvenile delinquency scare. Self-appointed custodians of morality decried the growing popularity of comic books; my parents thought they were a good way of getting me to read. Tom Higgins wrote of being in a hot stick shift Dodge when Horace Mann classmate Joe Sullivan outran the police with him in the car. Drag racing was popular, both on side roads and along Fifth Avenue, a main drag. Teenagers cruised Gary’s “Red Light District” along Washington Street, where hookers flashed their wares and sometimes jumped into their convertibles. One student read the reminiscences of Florence Medellin as told to Lori Van Gorp:
In 1946 Florence Medellin was dressing one of her girls for tap dancing when she heard what she thought was a car backfiring. It turned out to be someone gunning down racketeer Buddy Hutchins. She saw him lying face down in the gutter and called police. They asked her all kinds of questions. It turned out to be a mob execution.
Florence was a cashier at Chicken House on 113 West 14th Avenue. They’d put a knife to the poultry’s jugular vein and catch the blood for soup. They sold several thousand a day. Chickens were shipped in from all over Indiana. People stole eggs from the delivery trucks. The bold ones stole whole chickens.
Although Florence lived near Gary’s “Red Light District” she’d leave the door unlocked. She and her five children slept on the porch when it was too hot inside. She’d send kids down to the pool hall on 14th and Washington for ice or pop. Even though many neighbors were prostitutes, who’d display themselves in glass windows or doors, they’d make sure nothing happened to her children. One black man named Louis delegated himself as her children’s special protector. He’d sit on a bench and watch them as if he were their guardian.
On IUN campus for several events is Gary native Crystal Lynn O’Brien, motivational speaker and author of “Pretty, Raised Ugly.” A single mother at 16 who survived sexual abuse, she has an undergraduate degree and MBA and has worked for IU in Human Relations. Vice president of the Urban League Young Professionals of Northwest Indiana, Crystal Lynn started iRaise, whose philosophy is, “Love who you are and embrace where you’ve been. It all works together in making you the person you were born to be.”
Kevin Murphy and Joann Pokkul taped my talk on steelworkers and have put it on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Fem4EA-10c) under the title, “Calumet Revisited Dr James Lane 040516 1920 x 1080.” So far I’ve gotten the nerve to watch the first five minutes.
From federal prison satellite camp in Terre Haute George Van Til wrote:
Not feeling so good but DA says I’m OK to make it through to my out date here and be able to go to my doctors in July. Just can’t accomplish much in a day with my extreme fatigue, stomach, asthma, etc., slowing me down, and the weather sucks in this river valley. But, when people like you visit, it makes the days right before and after easier to deal with. Fondly, G.VT
Anne Balay is part of a Yale forum on “Queer Labor.” Fellow panelist Katherine Turk did research at the Calumet Regional Archives on African-American women war workers at Kingsbury Ordnance Plant in La Porte County. I met Ms. Turk at a 2012 Indiana Historical Society awards dinner where she received the Thornbrough Prize for best scholarly article, edging out my piece on Gary football legend and actor (“Blazing Saddles,” “Webster”) Alex Karras. Panelist Miriam Frank wrote the pioneering study, “Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America” (2015).