When Janet Zenke Edwards first heard about Chesterton’s Diana of the Dunes
Festival she asked who was Diana of the Dunes and why was there a festival
named for her. There were eight people sitting around a campfire and she got
eight different answers. Diana was a witch, a hermit, a ghost, an educated
woman or maybe never existed. And, by the way, her name was really Alice
Thus began a ten year search for the true story of Alice Gray which resulted
in the book Diana of the Dunes, The True Story of Alice Gray which was
published earlier this year by the History Press.
Edwards shared the story of her research with the Duneland Historical
Society at the Library Service Center Thursday, November 18. Her home is in
Saint Louis but she spent summers at Porter Beach where her grandparents
purchased two cottages in the 1950s.
She became fascinated with Alice’s story and started out to write an article
and then perhaps more than one article and finally a book. She gave credit
to many people who have assisted her beginning with her mother, a
genealogist, who, among other things, found military pension records for
Alice Gray’s father Ambrose Gray.
Edwards did research at the Westchester Township History Museum and told of
late night email exchanges with Museum Researcher Eva Hopkins as bits and
pieces of information came to light.
City directories, Ancestry.com, oral histories, old newspapers, trips to
find family homes and research in several libraries gave her a glimpse of
the real Alice. She was able to talk to the late Irene Nelson who remembered
Late in her research Edwards found that Alice had allowed her diaries to be
published in the Chicago Herald and Examiner in 1918. Manuscripts written by
Alice have not surfaced although it is known that she was a writer.
Alice’s great-niece Marion LaRocco of Michigan City who shared family
stories with Edwards was a special guest at the meeting.
The author is continuing to learn facts about Diana of the Dunes and hopes
more pictures will be found.
The book is available at the Westchester Township History Museum Store.
The Duneland historical society does not meet in December or January.
Election of officers for 2011 took place before the program. They are
president, Joan Costello; vice president, Eva Hopkins; vice president, Jane
Walsh-Brown; secretary, Dorothy Meyers; treasurer, Marilyn Cook; and
directors Betty Canright, Nancy Hokanson, Ken Keller, Audrey Lipinski, Bill
Meyer, Rita Newman, Nancy Vaillancourt, and Lynn Welsh.