Chesterton Tribune

IUN historian Jim Lane listens to the Region's voices

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History isn’t written by the winners anymore.

Heck, it may not even be written.

Sometimes history is spoken, or whispered, or screamed, or mumbled, in bowling alleys and bars, in all-night diners, on the shop floor.

Jim Lane, for 37 years a professor of history at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, has been listening to the voices of the Calumet Region, giving ear to the folks whose stories usually fall through the cracks. Steel and iron workers. Blacks. Latinos. Gays and lesbians. Immigrants, from the Old World or from Kentucky. The working poor or just the plain old poor. And families, always families—“At once the most fragile and resilient of American institutions,” Lane says—tending their gardens, getting along if not always going along.

“I consider myself a social historian, an oral historian,” Lane says. “It’s called history from the bottom up, people who don’t normally make it into the history books.”

Since 1975, in a more or less annual publication called Steel Shavings, Lane has compiled his oral histories by theme. Now in its 41st volume, Steel Shavings is a genuine body of work which voice by voice, like a rising chorus, has managed to capture Northwest Indiana’s beating heart, its rhythms and tensions, its passions and preoccupations.

Over the years Steel Shavings —a nearly complete collection is available in the reference section of Thomas Library—has devoted whole volumes to “Sports in the Calumet Region” (1984); to “Cruisin’ the Region in the Fifties” (1978) and a “Doo-Wop Rhapsody” (2002); to the “Uncertainty of Family Life” in the Eighties (2007); to “Race Relations” in the Sixties (1979); to a “History of Cedar Lake” (1997) and a “History of Portage” (1991); to “Vietnam Veterans” (1988); to the “Depression of the 1930s” (1977); to “Tales of Lake Michigan and the Northwest Indiana Dunelands” (1998); and to the “Concerned Citizens Against the Bailly Nuclear Site” (1988).

Just the merest fraction of snippets, like tiny shards of colored glass in a vast mosaic: “War Bride”; “Pin Setter”; “Kiwanians”; the “1949 Steel Strike”; “Paving Concrete”; “T.V.”’ and “Flick’s Tavern.”

Now, in the most recent volume—subtitled “Northwest Indiana Historian’s Blog”—Lane is trying something a little different: a transcript of his blog, beginning on Aug. 2, 2009, and concluding on March 31, 2011, of his musings and doings as he settles into retirement and knocks about the Calumet Region. To that blog he appends a collection of journal writing by the students of IUN history professor Steve McShane during March 2011.

“As a regional social historian, my overall goal remains to record everyday life and, in particular, linkages among friends, family, lovers, workplace colleagues, classmates, and members of various organizations gay and straight,” Lane writes in the “Editor’s Note” to Volume 41.

Lane: Historian, Bowler,

Sports Fan, XRT Listener

Lane and his wife moved to Chesterton last year, after their lease-back in the Edgewater area of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore expired.

Raised in the Philadelphia area and educated at Bucknell and at U of Hawaii and U of Maryland, Lane nevertheless has blue-collar tastes. He’s a pretty decent bowler—a hobby acquired when he decided he “wanted to be around people other than academics”—and an avid sports fan and fantasy footballer. He listens to WXRT, watches Dancing with the Stars, and reads Jerry Davich in the Post-Trib. He’s also got an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock and thematizes his blog entries with epigraphs, from The Grateful Dead (“What I want to know / Where does the time go?”); John Lennon (“Imagine all the people / Living life in peace”); Neil Young (“There’s a warnin’ sign / On the road ahead”); Night Ranger (“Well it felt so good to be young / Feels like yesterday”).

So Lane has made a home here in Northwest Indiana.

It was always that way. When Lane first arrived at IUN in the Sixties and visited the county fair, he recalls, “I almost felt like a sociologist studying Hoosiers. Farmers with their bib overalls. But at some point these people just began to seem like me. I’m a Hoosier. When I go bowling, if we don’t talk about academics, we talk about going to the Star Plaza to see ZZ Top. I’m one of them now.”

Lane’s also one of us now, a Dunelander. “We are gradually getting to know Chesterton,” he blogs on Sept. 27, 2010. “We skipped the Oz Festival last weekend but plan to subscribe to the Chesterton Tribune, which has been in existence since 1884 . . . . Toni and I shopped at the European market, where we have gone for bread in the past. Our cleaner’s family had a booth, and we purchased four huge burritos to serve the Hagelbergs at Bridge for just $22. We split one for lunch and it was delicious.”

Ides of March 2011, Journals written by IUN Students

“History,” Lane says, “isn’t what happened long ago but right now. All around you.”

Thus he compiles in Volume 41 of Steel Shavings the journalings of McShane’s history students, who put their work-a-day lives to paper during March of this year.

Caleb: “I am a morning stocker at Costco Wholesale. . . . Work was hellish because there was so much to do . . . . I had to lift about 40 bags of ‘turf builder,’ and each weighed 30 pounds so that wasn’t fun.”

Sarah: “Today I woke up early with son Mikey. He’s only 2, and an early riser, but I think it’s because he hears my husband’s work alarm go off and wants to say good-bye to daddy before he leaves.”

Shannon: “I worked my usual 8 to 3 shift at Subway. Exciting. Sarcasm. . . . My sister Megan and I bought tickets to see a concert tonight in Chicago featuring We Came As Romans, Pierce the Veil, and A Day to Remember.”

Melissa: “Tomorrow I’ll go to Bob Saget’s show and hopefully just have 19 other things on my Bucket List. They include: Drive a hovercraft; Go to Tuscany, Italy; Run a 5K; Open my own business; Watch all of the Top 100 movies of all time; Read every book in my personal library; Graduate college (come on May 12!); Go white water rafting; Learn to play the harmonica.”

As Lane notes in his Editor’s Note, “several trends emerge from the journals herein. A surprising number of students were spiritual and attended church services regularly. Most were health conscious and worked out. . . Working mothers struggled with homework, jobs, and family duties, including caring for elderly parents and grandparents. Almost everyone complained of rising gas prices and food costs and worried about the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan and the military operations against Muammar Gadhafi. Primarily Education majors, they had strong opinions about the union rallies in Indianapolis and Madison, Wis., to protect teachers.”

How to Get a Copy of Vol. 41

Volume 41 of Steel Shavings is available at the IUN Bookstore or send a check—in the amount of $16 (including mailing and handling) and payable to Indiana University—to James Lane, History, IUN, 3400 Broadway, Gary, IN 46408.


Posted 10/5/2011