The “War to end all wars”, the “War to make the world safe for democracy” was
the subject of the April program for the Duneland Historical Society.
Matt Hedstrom, Ph.D., Lilly Fellow and Lecturer in Humanities and American
Studies at Valparaiso University was guest speaker for “On the Home Front:
Chesterton and Porter During World War I”.
Following the society’s spring dinner catered by Popolano’s and attended by
72 members and guests, Hedstrom gave an overview of the situation at home
before, during and after America’s entry into the war. His illustrated
presentation was combined with a showing of a program prepared for the
Duneland Folk Festival in 1981.
Interviews with local residents told of Victory Gardens, Red Cross work,
meatless and wheatless days, war bonds and thrift stamps, selective service,
anti-German sentiment, and the excitement of hearing about the armistice.
The Red Cross operated from quarters above Nickel’s Drug Store. Workers did
knitting, rolled bandages, made influenza masks, sent Christmas packages to
the front and served coffee and doughnuts at the canteen in Valparaiso.
The formal declaration of war was on April 6, 1917 and the Armistice was
declared on November 11, 1918. Local men registered for the first selective
service sign-up in June 1917 when 1,996 men from Porter County ages 21 to 31
answered the call. The first lottery drawing from the registrants excluded
married men, aliens, farmers and employees working for the war effort.
Both Hedstrom’s overview and the local program used posters from the era with
strong patriotic themes and illustrations. The Chesterton Tribune was full of
war related stories, including lists of men registered, lists of buyers of
War Bonds, instructions on conservation and increased food production and
eventually the report of war dead.
Fatalities reported from Chesterton and Porter were Leo W. Friday, Arthur T.
Johnson, John Krysiak, Axel W. Lundberg, Charles Pratt and Charles F.
Wiseman. Many of the war dead died of disease rather that wounds suffered in
Women began to work at jobs which had always been considered “men’s work”.
Porter’s Hydraulic Brick works closed due to the labor shortage and later
reopened with women laborers in place of the absent males. Ceceila Hillstrom
served in France as a nurse.
Aliens were required to register. St. John’s Church was stilll having
services in German and the church history recounts the problems encountered
during WWI when they thought they might have to close.
Even a murder with local connections occurred in 1915. Rev. Edmund Kayser who
had earlier served at St. John’s was murdered in Gary because of his
pro-Germany statements. He is buried in Chesterton Cemetery.
Anne Hokanson was in the audience and shared her memories of attending Red
Cross meetings with her mother and of the noise and excitement when the
Armistice was declared. She said word came at night and people came out in
their nightclothes to celebrate.
The Duneland Historical Society will meet May 17, 7:30 p.m. at the Library
Service Center when the program will be “Important People From Our
Community’s Past” by third graders from Liberty Elementary School.
Members will receive information about the summer trip which will be
Saturday, June 23 to the Wolfe Mansion and Portage Museum.