Members of the
Duneland Historical Society heard a presentation on life in Duneland in the
1920s at their November meeting.
Joan Costello and
Rita Newman took turns expounding on the history of Duneland as it relates
to statewide and national events in the 1920s. This month’s presentation was
part of the Historical Society’s Local Life series, in which members have
recently heard about Duneland ghost towns and the history of the Town of
Costello and Newman
described the changing face of American life. Prohibition spawned an era of
crime. More people inhabited cities than farming communities for the first
time in U.S history, and the country’s total wealth doubled in the decade
before the Great Depression began on Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929. Before
the crash, the standard of living was high for many, hence the term “Roaring
20s.” This improved standard of living meant that average people could
afford new technology such as improved ice boxes, early cars, vacuums, and
washing machines--but it also gave way to a Jay Gatsby attitude among the
ultra-rich that some people might say has never faded.
“We all know about
flappers,” the presentation began. Newman and Costello described a new life
that many American women were experiencing, as they felt more comfortable
subverting gender norms and enjoyed the new right to vote. Yet in Duneland,
Costello said, most women probably continued working hard and enjoying the
little things throughout the 20s. “I don’t think many women in Duneland were
trimming their hair, shortening their dresses, or enjoying the glitz of the
Jazz Age.” A few of the now instantly recognizable simple pleasures invented
in the 20s and available for those not rich enough to enjoy extravagance
included Kool-Aid and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Some of the same
average Duneland men and women enjoying life in the early 20s may have
worked at the Chesterton China Factory, which became American China Products
Company in 1921 under Theodore Dittel. At its peak, the factory employed 200
people and produced nearly 60 thousand pieces of china per week. The factory
was a major employer for the 1,804 people of Chesterton and 699 in Porter
until its closure in 1925.
Company in Porter, meanwhile, closed in 1925, after a devastating fire.
Newman, who proudly describes herself as a “Porterite,” took a moment to
show attendees a promotional item made at Columbia China. It was a small
pig, and Newman explained that one was supposed to remove its tail and trap
a fly inside so the fly would make its tail move.
U.S. Highway 12 and
Indian Boundary Road predate the 1920s by decades, perhaps centuries, as
they were originally routes traveled by Native Americans. The construction
of roads began to expand beyond gravel and dirt in the 20s, and the new
Dunes Highway followed suit as a 20-foot-wide concrete thoroughfare. The
design was planned with maximum speeds of 35 miles per hour for cars and 10
mph for trucks in mind. Tourists had this new route into Duneland, and they
had a new landmark to visit when Indiana Dunes State Park opened in 1925.
On Sept. 27, 1924,
a large Ku Klux Klan initiation took place at the LaPorte County Fair
Grounds, at which 55 new members were inducted and a large cross burned. The
Chesterton chapter of the Klan ran this ceremony. That year’s phonebook
listed the Chesterton Klan’s address at 132 1/2 Calumet Road, which is today
at roughly the same location as Data Graphics, just across the street from
the Chesterton Tribune offices and The Flower Cart.
1924 also saw the
construction of the Chesterton Bandstand at Thomas Centennial Park. Today
it’s one of the only surviving original bandstands in Indiana and is also
well known for its unique octagonal shape.
Duneland had a few
memorable residents in the 20s. “Diana of the Dunes,” also known as Alice
Gray, died at her home in the Dunes in 1925. She studied mathematics at the
University of Chicago and in Germany, and became a curiosity after seeking
peace and living in the Dunes starting in 1915. Mary Bradt, a longtime
second-grade teacher from Porter, died in 1929. She was known for managing
her classroom and being independent even though she was born without hands.
Attendees had a lot
to say about the Aron Theatre after Newman discussed its history. H.L.
Cooper built the Palace Theatre in 1927 and acquired a building that became
the Aron in 1942. The Aron remained open through 1961, and those in
attendance recalled Cooper as a strict man. He reportedly required the
theatre be silent before each movie started, and banned chewing gum and
popcorn. Newman noted a fact that surprised most in attendance. “Aron” is
“Nora” spelled backwards. The stringent man they recalled named the Aron
after his wife.