Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Historical Society hears of life here in the Twenties

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By LILY REX

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 Burns Harbor.

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.

Columbia China 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.

 

 

Posted 11/29/2017

 
 
 
 

 

 

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