By PAULENE POPARAD
It’s a feat that likely couldn’t be duplicated today.
The parade committee that organized a major highlight of 1952’s week-long
Chesterton centennial celebration made just 15 long-distance phone calls.
“We’d make 15 long-distance calls in an hour today,” said Nancy
Vaillancourt, who entertained approximately 80 members and guests of the
Duneland Historical Society Thursday with a retrospective of the centennial
The parade committee did spend 400 hours planning, traveled 500 miles, sent
out 350 post cards and used 650 sheets of paper. And from the numerous
slides taken by Walter Baur Sr. that were shown by Vaillancourt, the
estimated crowd of 25,000 who watched the parade into the dusk were
delighted by what was described as a most colorful spectacle.
Ralph Brooks, now 83, said the Chesterton Cemetery grounds were parked full
of cars, as were all the streets. The parade route wound past stores and
buildings like Publix Bowling, Brunks Ice Cream and State Park Drugs, many
of which no longer exist.
Chesterton’s population of just over 3,000 residents led a simpler life in
1952 before the Indiana 49 Bypass and Bethlehem Steel were built, said
Vaillancourt. But it was also during the Cold War and even rose-colored
glasses couldn’t dim the specter of a mushroom cloud that hung over the
The centennial celebration took place Aug. 17-23 with each day honoring a
Sunday’s Freedom of Religion and Americanism Day kicked off with a community
worship service and observances at local churches followed by Young America
Day, Pioneer and Homecoming Day, Ladies Day, Merchants Day, Governor’s Day
with white-hatted Gov. Schricker in attendance, and Farmer’s Day.
Each theme day was packed with activities for young and old, among them a
bike rodeo, style show, baking and clothes-hanging contests, a balloon
release, a tea and formal ball, horse pulls, sack races, a street dance, an
open midway, several fireworks displays and a barbecue attended by 1,300
people who ate 700 pounds of ribs cooked under the supervision of Michael
Joseph, a nationally known barbecue chef.
Five times during the week performances of “Crossroads of the Continent,” an
ambitious historical pageant, also were staged under the direction of the
John B. Rogers Co. personal representative. “The pageant itself must have
been exhausting to watch as well as to perform,” said Vaillancourt. “It must
have been an exciting week; every family had visitors.”
For many, the centennial is synonymous with Brothers of the Brush and
Sisters of the Swish.
Organized by the Chesterton Fire Department, the Brothers encouraged men to
grow a mustache, full beard, goatee or sideburns, and the Chesterton Women’s
Club Sisters swore off lipstick and pledged to wear the official centennial
bows, bonnets and old-fashioned dresses.
Vaillancourt said several of the women’s costumes were based on original
patterns, and the young girls’ flounce pantaloons often were wide eyelet
lace sewn around pajama bottoms. Many female costumes shown in the color
slides were very elaborate despite the fact there was much discussion at the
time, according to Vaillancourt, over what the right neckline should be and
if a hoopskirt and bustle were appropriate.
The men who did not wish to be a Brush Brother could pay a fine or buy a
permit to be clean-shaven.
Reigning over the week-long festivities was Queen Ruth Vedell, an 18
year-old blonde who won a trip to Bermuda. Three hundred people attended the
Queen’s Ball at Saidla’s. Eleanor (Hokanson) Todd was a member of Vedell’s
court. “I was 16. I remember being in it but I don’t even remember it very
much,” she said Thursday.
A period centennial dress worn by her great-aunt Oral Smith was on display
for the evening, but Todd didn’t trade her 1952 togs for pioneer wear. “I
think when you’re a teenager you don’t want to wear that.”
Brooks was one of the Keystone Cops who arrested people and sent them before
a Kangaroo Court and possible incarceration at Little Alcatraz, a makeshift
public prison cell. Some would escape a jail sentence by carrying out
humorous pranks. One of the town’s elder statesmen, E. L. Morgan, was made
to pay a fine and don a sunbonnet for not wearing his Brothers of the Brush
“Someone said they even came to your house in a police patrol wagon and took
you to Little Alcatraz,” said Vaillancourt. “This is rowdier as time went
on. They were asked to do stunts.” Even women were dunked in a horse trough.
Viewing a slide, “You can see the little boys having the best time -- and
the big ones,” said Vaillancourt, who moved here after the centennial.
According to Brooks, “I remember taking the paddywagon and we went and got
Ann Carter and arrested her in her store. She had to pay a fine.”
Vaillancourt said others remember Carter having to put a penny in every
parking meter on each side of Broadway within a time limit. “And she did it.
Everyone was having a wonderful time.”
Carter, a well-known real estate agent, sponsored a live elephant in the
parade. “They put in for 20 bands. I doubt they got them but they had a lot
of music,” Vaillancourt commented as numerous slides of the parade were
displayed. “When I looked at this I thought, how did they ever decorate
those floats? They all looked so ambitious.”
Another major promotion was Chester Stemp’s The Big Inch. He divided one
inch in front of the then-town hall on Calumet Road into lots that were sold
at auction. The Inch was said to have a golf course, river, public park and
Even presidential candidates Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson bought a
lot. A plaque remains today on the site of the Inch, which someone estimated
would have cost $1 billion an acre. “The whole project must have been fun
for everybody,” said Vaillancourt.
A somber note was sounded when John Swanson died and his body was laid to
rest in a horse-drawn hearse. “Mr. Swanson did not ever want to ride in a
car so it was thought this would be a nice way to go on his last ride, so to
speak,” said Vaillancourt.
Eventually, the centennial observance ended and using its commemorative
wooden nickles went out of fashion. Modern times returned as Wabash Avenue
was extended to Waverly Road and Chesterton got its first state license
A time capsule was dedicated as part of the 1952 centennial and remains
sealed today. According to Vaillancourt, one Governor’s Day speaker said if
an atom bomb ever did go off, the time capsule would contain the blueprint
for making a perfect town.