Chesterton Tribune

Memories of 'Bloody 20': Historic marker sought for old Duneland State Police post

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The 28 miles of U.S. Highway 20 between Gary and the Michigan state line—“Bloody 20”—once had the reputation as the deadliest stretch of road in the country. In 1951 alone there were 362 crashes along its four lanes, one for every day of the year, with 36 fatalities and 262 injuries.

Now the Pioneers of the Indiana State Police is seeking to have an Indiana historical marker placed at the site of the old Dunes Park Indiana State Police Post, located near the junction of U.S. 20 and Ind. 49.

“Other State Police Posts have closed, but Dunes Park was unique in the fact that the troopers who worked U.S. 20 had the toughest beat in America,” Marty Talbert, immediate past president of the Pioneers of the Indiana State Police, said in a statement released last week. “No other stretch of road was deadlier.”

The idea for placing the historical marker belongs to Dick Wylie, Gary native and former Post Tribune news photographer, who spent hundreds of hours riding with troopers on patrol during his career. Wylie penned a chapter in his book, Life and Death, Thru the Lens, to the Indiana State troopers he often photographed amid the carnage on the roadway.

“Those troopers were the most dedicated law enforcement officers I ever covered,” Wylie said.

“They worked all hours of the day and night, without overtime pay, many times without a day off for weeks, being called out of bed to cover another tragedy.”

The Pioneers of the Indiana State Police, an organization of retired troopers and state police employees with at least 20 years of service, discussed the possibility of erecting a historical marker at the Dunes Park site during their annual meeting last month. “The state still owns the property,” Talbert said. “The old post was torn down years ago, but a radio tower remains on the site. Driving by you wouldn't even know that a post once sat there.”

Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell has agreed to support the project.

“The story of Bloody 20 is about more than just the Troopers,” Talbert added.

“The troopers relied on private ambulance services often based out of funeral homes. Wrecker operators assumed the duty of extricating trapped victims from their mangled vehicles. It was about all-night truck stops and restaurants where motorists often ran in and asked someone to call the police. It was about justice of the peace courts, where scoff laws and drunk drivers were taken.”

In 1956 the Indiana Toll Road opened, taking with it the heavy truck traffic and vacationing motorists who once frequented U.S. 20. The killer highway that annually averaged greater than a death per mile had her sentence commuted by the new construction of safer highways.

Although the reign of Bloody 20 ended more than half a century ago a handful of troopers who patrolled the beat remain alive today, with names recognizable to many Duneland oldtimers: Tim McCarthy, Bob Owens, Manny Pikramenos, Jess Harris, and Leo Commisky.

Placement of a marker would have to be approved by the Indiana Historical Bureau, a process which can easily take a year or more. “If a historical marker is approved I hope some of the troopers who were assigned to the Dunes Park Post during the early fifties can see it,” Talbert said.

“Dedication day will be an opportunity for those men to take pride in their efforts and know that their work will be forever remembered by the public they served.”

 

Posted 10/8/2010