“The fragmented, vulnerable, yet ever-renewing Dunes landscape is an apt metaphor of the struggle for community in the midst of a divided society and a broken land.” J. Ronald Engel, “Sacred Sands”
At the Dunes National Lakeshore Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education I enjoyed a play sponsored by Save the Dunes so much that I went to see it again the next day at Valparaiso University's Duesenberg Recital Hall. Here’s a description:
Sacred Sands: A Play for Voices is a 40-minute performance piece written by David Hoppe and directed by John Green, Professor of Theatre, Columbia College, Chicago. It is inspired by the book, Sacred Sands: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes by L. Ronald Engel. Sacred Sands uses poetry, dramatic dialogue and documentary evidence to explore the history of the Indiana Dunes. It premiered as part of the Dunes Blow-Out: A Festival of Performance and Ecology, sponsored by Save the Dunes, at Miller Beach in September 2016. Cast members include Patrick Bannon, Jeffrey Baumgartner, Felecia Clark-Viou, Angie Gehm, Sandy Gleim, Casey Lowenthal, Jane Neulieb, Robert Reidy, Maggie Reister, Robert Richter and Doug Robinson.
The “Sacred Sands” script consisted primarily of quotes from author Ron Engel and other Dunes lovers, including pioneer ecologist Henry Chandler Cowles, landscape architect Jens Jenson, poet Carl Sandburg (who compared the Dunes to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite), Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, and Alice Gray, known locally as Diana of the Dunes. Quotes by Gray and novelist Edgar Lee Masters expressed the exhilaration of camping and cavorting naked amongst the beauty of nature, away from the smoke and soot of industrialized Chicago. In fact, as I’ve written in “The Dune Faun: Diana of the Dunes’ Male Counterpart” (South Shore Journal, volume 5, 2013), Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline attracted numerous nudists. Most dunes preservationists hailed from Illinois, and in the production there is a dramatic exchange between Senator Paul Douglas, performed brilliantly by Jeffrey Baumgartner, and Hoosier Congressman Charley Halleck, who resented “outsiders” preventing the entire Indiana lakeshore from being exploited by business interests.
actor Jeff Baumgartner
In addition to the powerful quotes, including a Carl Sandburg line (“The dunes are a signature of time and eternity”) I used to begin my history of Gary, “City of the Century,” the performance featured two powerful spirituals by Frank Jones and several other songs, sometimes accompanied by a flutist. There was mention of the 1917 “Pageant of the Dunes,” which involved over a thousand performers dressed in period costumes and over 15,000 spectators. The program entitled “The Dunes under Four Flags,” was steeped in Native American lore.
1916 Dunes pageant
At VU I ran into grad student Marla Gee, who was passing out programs and led the discussion afterwards. Next month she will be off to Liverpool, England, to take courses on the Beatles. Brauer Museum curator Gregg Hertzlieb waved at me. I was disappointed that the exhibition “Sand and Steel: Visions of Our Indiana Shore” came down last month. The cast and audience, filled with Save the Dunes members, would have love it. One cast member had a half-dozen grandchildren sitting in the first row and was pleased she didn’t see any of them yawn.
A new addition to the Calumet Regional Archives is Victor Cassidy’s biography of Henry Chandler Cowles (1869-1929) and anthology of his writings. It begins:
Photographs always show him outdoors – and always wearing a tie. In his professional mode as Henry Chandler Cowles (pronounced “coals”) of the University of Chicago, he wears a dark suit, vest, white shirt, bowler hat, and tie as he escorts his European colleagues through the Indiana Dunes under the summer sun. In his role as “Doctor Cowles,” the jovial, cigar-smoking mentor to generations of ecology students, he leads expeditions in calf-high boots, knickers, white shirt, floppy hat – and tie. Short and a bit stout, with a large, well-shaped head and a ready grin, he’s someone who seems easy to like.
Also over weekend, I persuaded a dozen duplicate bridge contestants at the Calumet Township Multi-Purpose Center to agree to be interviewed by IUN summer Indiana History students. At Miller Market on a warm Sunday I enjoyed guitar virtuoso Jef Sarver while chowing down on a steak taco. Sarver, in the Guinness Book for performing non-stop for 48 hours, did numbers by Bob Dylan, the Eagles, and (a special request) Prince. On Saturday Night Live Melissa McCarthy reprised her hilarious spoof of White House spokesman Sean Spicer, which ended with her embracing Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. Earlier, asked by someone playing Lester Holt if he knew what “priming the pump” meant, Baldwin’s Trump replied that it was when “I tug at myself for about a half an hour before Melania comes in so she can find it easier.” I cringed on that line, wondering if I’d heard right, but laughed out loud at Baldwin saying, “I sit on every chair like it’s a toilet.”
At Miller’s Carter G. Woodson Library, I ran into David Hess, who told me the main library downtown will re-open this year and that the Indiana Room will be open to scholars. I started reading Elizabeth Strout’s “My Name Is Lucy Barton” (2016), whose theme, like in her classic “Oliver Kitteridge,” is the loneliness of the human condition. The main character, born dirt poor in a small Illinois town, recalls a sixth-grade teacher who told her about Sauk and Fox Chief Black Hawk once saying, “How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong and wrong like right.” Hospitalized in New York City for 9 weeks from an infection that was a bi-product of an appendix operation, Lucy looks out her window, observes people below, and vows never to walk down a sidewalk again without giving thanks. I had a similar feeling 60 years ago after catching a bad case of poison ivy. I thought, “I never appreciated my arms not itching until now.”
4 a.m. at Gerald Ford InternationalAirport; Alissa standing, right; below, Toni and Dave
below, Angie and Toni
For Mother’s Day Dave and Angie brought over Chinese food from Wing Wah. Phil called earlier from Michigan and Alissa from New York City’s JFK Airport during a layover en route to the Dominican Republic with fellow Grand Valley State grad students. At dinner, I mentioned that Toni’s mother Blanche was one of the strongest women I knew, raising six children in a North Philadelphia row house and having another die at infancy after being delivered at home. Whenever we’d visit from Indiana, she’d have fresh potato salad for me in the fridge. She took her first plane trip at age 60 to see Phil and Dave perform in the musical “Finian’s Rainbow.” I was her partner in an outdoor scavenger hunt, and she literally ran up our hill and driveway to beat out our main competition. My mother (Midge) was orphaned at age 11 and subsequently raised by a strict aunt and grandmother. Widowed at age 50, she married a man eight years her senior whose daughters thought he was a gold digger. She gradually won the grandchildren over.