Gary, Indiana Preservation Tour

Union Station

I’ve always been interested in the history of my hometown. Even as a lifelong resident, I enjoy hearing the juicy factoids about the city’s past, and still feel the stories would make an historical tour not only possible, but interesting. In an earlier post, Is Historical Tourism Possible in Northwest Indiana, I posed the question of whether a tour could be a reality.

View of Corinthian columns in former Gary State Bank (Currently Centier Bank)

Well, thanks to the Gary Redevelopment Committee and several other sponsors, three walking tours took place this summer. The main purpose of the two-hour tours were to explore the architecture of historic buildings such as the Gary State Bank (currently Centier Bank), Union Station, and City Hall. Honestly, the architecture didn’t interest me. As a writer, I enjoy the stories about the buildings more, and was glad they were also part of the tour.

While current and former residents like me are already familiar with these buildings, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the three tours were full and consisted of people not even from the area (I was the only person from Gary in my group). I was also relieved to hear– at least from my group– fascination with the stories tour guides gave about each site, and not pity about the current state of the city.

Ballroom of former Gary Hotel (currently Genesis Towers)

Due to distance and time constraints, only a few sites were part of the tour. To anyone who knows or lived through Gary’s history, the information and sites would not be new. They did not include places such as the Palace Theatre, the Memorial Auditorium, or Emerson School. Thankfully, the group doesn’t plan on this being the last tour. They also hope to include more sites on any future tours. Maybe one of those beer trolleys– the ones where everyone sits around a bar and collectively pedals it around– would make the tour more interesting and allow access to more sites such as Waldheim Cemetery, St. John’s Lutheran Church, US Steel Gary Works, and others.

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First permanent structure built in Gary: The Gary Land Company Building

In the end, it was nice to see the interest people had for the city. I’m also glad that the city sees the benefit in remembering and promoting its rich history.

I wonder… maybe the city’s history can become part of the school system’s curriculum. Cultural field trips throughout the city are also a thought; a way of pointing out the beauty native Garyites might take for granted because we pass them every day. How many of us can even point to a building in the city and appreciate its place in history? By purposely teaching Gary’s history, I think young residents will gain a life-long respect for the city they call home.

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Rugs and ADHD

Bob Moulesong -- Author & Writer

On occasion, I have been asked why I chose to write about a squirrel that bounces in place, runs in circles, can’t stand still, and occasionally yells “run for your life!”

Many of us watch squirrels in our backyard, or at the local park. We laugh as we observe them behave in similar ways to Rugs. They seem to have an attention span shorter than the blink of an eye. Our children giggle when two of them chase in other in circles. Their attempts to open a bird feeder can result in a social media post gone viral.

While I am amused and entertained by their antics, I couldn’t help but notice how much they reminded me of two of my children, diagnosed with ADHD.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

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Is Historical Tourism in Northwest Indiana Possible?

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In researching my work-in-progress– an historical tale about Prohibition in Gary, Indiana– I came across the Rum Runners Tour in Windsor, Ontario.

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Detroit (background) from Windsor, Ontario

The tour probed the area’s connection to the Prohibition Era in the United States. On the tour, we drove around an area known as Walkertown, where Hiram Walker and his family supplied a dry US with his Canadian Club Whiskey across the Detroit River.

We were then treated to the most interesting and entertaining retelling of Windsor in the 1920s, replete with costumed actors depicting bootleggers, police officers, temperance workers, and speakeasy owners. I had a ball (the morning whiskey tasting didn’t hurt either!)

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Lunch and entertainment at a Canadian “speakeasy”

With as much fun as I had and the amount of history I learned, I wondered–does northwest Indiana have what it takes to create tours like this?

As readers of this blog know, this Gary, Indiana girl has a soft spot for the city and the region as a whole. When I tell people where I’m from, they ask, “Is that close to Chicago?” as if that is our only claim on the map. There is so much history here, I used to think that anything I wrote would only interest other history nerds like myself. But with the number of people who’d signed up to ride in a cramped school bus on a rainy, humid day in Windsor, I figured, why not offer something like that here in northwest Indiana? What would my ideal tour of the region be?

There are lots of things to consider if I were to confine my tour to just the city of Gary. There’s the steel mill, of course, but with today’s terrorist climate, that might not be the best idea. Several wildlife and nature preserves offer tours in that area of interest. There are also beautifully preserved mansions in the Holley District of Crown Point, Indiana.

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Lake Street Beach, Gary, IN

The pioneer era was interesting as well. One could recreate a sod dugout or set up a horse-drawn wagon route to simulate the grueling journey newcomers had to take through dunes and swamp to get here in the late 1800s.

There is Gary’s Golden Era in the 1920s with its architecture boom. Though rundown, some of the buildings from that time still exist (folks still visit the ruins in Rome, right?)

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Ruins of City Methodist Church, Gary, IN

Tourists to the area could be treated to a recreation of what once was the greatest school system in the world–the platoon or work-study-play model, with someone portraying William Wirt (I think the Gary school board might benefit from studying that point in history, in my humble opinion).

So I ask, if you were in charge of tourism in northwest Indiana, what sites/themes would you include?

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Steel Mills and Tommy Guns: Gary, Indiana and the Prohibition Era

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gawker.com

Gary, Indiana doesn’t quickly come to mind when one thinks of the Prohibition Era in the Midwest. Chicago, Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre are more obvious choices. I’ve heard stories that Gary’s close proximity to Chicago gave those gangsters a place to hide out; that there were tunnels connecting the two cities for ease of escape. So when I decided that I wanted to write a Prohibition Era story set in Gary, Indiana, I thought I’d have to make my imagination work overtime. That I’d have to find some tenuous connection between the steel mill and bootlegging to make it somewhat interesting.

That wasn’t the case.

Research is a beautiful thing. I’ve always embraced the lesson that setting is a writer’s best friend, especially if there is a historical element to it. While digging into Gary’s Prohibition past, I learned that the city had its own share of issues with the Volstead Act. There was a Little Italy section and its own Black Hand. I learned that there were bookies, bootleggers, brothels, speakeasies and corrupt public figures who ran the rackets better than the gangsters they were supposed to prosecute. James Lane’s City of the Century led me to real-life gangster Gasperi (or Gaspari) Monti who ruled the city’s Little Italy section until his violent death in 1923.

3080059621_31d213b0dc_oAccording to local newspaper reports, Monti is best known as the government’s star witness in a corruption case against more than sixty judges, prosecutors, policemen, and even then-Gary mayor Roswell Johnson, all for violating Prohibition laws. At the time, the Gary Police Department had a special enforcement arm called the Sponge Squad that arrested bootleggers, and then would sell liquor confiscated in the arrests to line their pockets and the pockets of everyone else up the law enforcement chain in Lake County. Monti made a deal with federal prosecutors to expose the corruption, but was gunned down in broad daylight by two unknown assailants on March 13, 1923, just days before he was scheduled to testify.

Monti was no stranger to violence and attempts on his life. In 1922, he’d been shot through the mouth by a man who’d shot him a year prior. He owned and operated the Black and Tan Club in the 1700 block of Adams Street where shooting deaths were commonplace. Even Monti’s wife, Mary, was into the rackets. After her husband was killed, police found illegal liquor and several pounds of explosives in her home.

Gary, Indiana’s past never ceases to amaze me.  The further I go back in time, the more fodder I find for fiction. I imagine there are several genres I can squeeze out of the life of Gasperi Monti.

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Suicide Squirrels and the Writing Retreat

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After a writing friend mentioned how she would use the winnings of a recent contest she’d entered to attend a writer’s retreat and reading about writing retreats in an issue of Writer’s Digest, I wrote about creating my own retreat in the April 2013 post, “7 Steps to Creating Your Own Writing Retreat.” Well, I actually did it. Below details how I used the seven steps gleaned from the Writer’s Digest article to organize my very own weekend retreat. Three brave souls from my critique group dared to try this experiment with me. So thanks to Liz Wilson-Cotey, Laurie Chase, and Julie Perkins for inspiring this post.

  1. Set Specific Goals: Our primary goal was to get away and have time dedicated to just writing. Our goals for the weekend were receiving feedback on current projects and then working on them. Though we do this regularly every two weeks, critiquing and then immediately working on the project keeps ideas fresh, as opposed to waiting days later until there was time in our schedules to analyze feedback and act on it.
  2. Choose the Location Carefully: We were fortunate enough to have a whole house available to us for the weekend. It wasn’t as remote as we would have liked it. Though it was in a rural part of the county, the house was located on the town’s main business drag, so we heard every emergency vehicle and overexcited patron of local establishments for the duration of the retreat. The only other snafu to our perfect location was the Suicide Squirrels. Actual squirrels had gotten into the house prior to our arrival and had a field day. We spent about an hour cleaning up what we initially thought was rat poo… ALL. OVER. THE HOUSE. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that a pair of baby ground squirrels drowned in one of the bathrooms caused the mess. At least we wouldn’t worry about rats crawling all over us while we slept!
  3. Sketch Out a Schedule: Since it was just a weekend and essentially an experiment, we had a fairly loose schedule. Friday night was to be spent critiquing, but the suicidal squirrels and a pint of Captain Morgan’s shortened that exercise. After an hour of cleaning up behind the decedents, we welcomed the Captain to the critique table. We only managed two critiques before calling it a night.
  4. Make it a Reading Retreat, Too: We learned that, for us, writing nonstop for an entire day just wasn’t going to work. We spent the morning (after finishing with critiques) and afternoon writing. By the time early evening arrived, I don’t think our eyes could absorb another word. While one of us opted to run, the rest of us napped, read, or listened to music.
  5. Be Healthful: Aside from the Captain Morgan’s, we did a potluck for the first night and ended up with more food than we needed. Fruit was available and we even had a delicious breakfast of gluten-free pancakes on the final day. To combat cabin fever, we ate at a Mexican restaurant on Saturday night. Guacamole is healthy, right?
  6. Leave Your Other Work at Home: This was easy. The only other work we brought was other writing projects. Not only was I able to write an entire chapter for my WIP, I completed a devotional for my church’s Facebook page. I also researched some places to submit work and took a couple of hours to view an online movie during the era in which my manuscript takes place. That counts as research in my book.
  7. Reflect on Your Routine: On the final night, we roasted marshmallows and reflected on the weekend. We agreed that the retreat, though short, was much needed in our hectic schedules. We decided that someplace more secluded would be our next location, without the suicidal squirrels, of course. Captain Morgan is invited to attend again, but his appearance would have to be much earlier than 9 pm.

 

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The Integration Situation: The 1927 Emerson School Boycott

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Gary, Indiana’s Emerson School, built in 1908, became a visual and performing arts school in 1982. It closed after its centennial year.

As a special education teacher, I said I would never write a story about teaching or schools. But in researching the history of my hometown of Gary, Indiana, I discovered rich–and sometimes infamous–stories about not only the city itself, but also the school system. A 1927 incident involving nearly a third of one school’s student body walking out for a week caught my eye.

That incident serves as the backdrop to a fantasy manuscript I’m currently working on about an angel in 1927 Gary, Indiana whose extended time on earth is causing him to disintegrate into a demon.

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Side view of Emerson in 2014. The school had been closed for several years at this point.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL SYSTEM

The Gary Community School Corporation was once considered a premier educational system (a complete contrast to its present state). Its “platoon” model, the brainchild of superintendent William A. Wirt, was sought after by other cities. Wirt designed this work-study-play curriculum after his belief that city life ruined children, as they weren’t exposed to the style of schooling he experienced as a youth growing up in a rural area. Instead of spending time at a desk for almost half the school day, Wirt envisioned a curriculum that not only trained the child academically, but also provided guided leisure time, which kept students from what he termed a “street and alley education.”

“Employment for his idle time,” Wirt wrote in a draft I found of a 1926 speech on Work-Study-Play Education, “must be found by the big brother so that the wants that give value to work and the tastes that give value to leisure will be developed.” Wirt’s model resembles what we see in today’s secondary schools: 60-minute blocks for academics; 60 minutes for play/physical education; 60 minutes for his revolutionary Auditorium program, in which several classes met in the school auditorium for lessons that included hygiene, drama, music, and public speaking; and 60 minutes for work training or special classes such as art. According to the 1925 school statistics housed at Indiana University Northwest Calumet Archives, sixty-five percent of the district’s nearly 18,000 students voluntarily attended Saturday school. Sixty percent voluntarily attended eight weeks of summer school. From all historical accounts I’ve read, students actually enjoyed all the time spent in school.

THE EMERSON BOYCOTT

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Current back view of Emerson. This large campus once housed a zoo for its science classes

Construction began on Ralph Waldo Emerson School in 1908. In 1927, it was one of two unit schools that housed kindergarten through 12th grade. At the time, two of the twenty-one schools in the city were reserved for “colored” students only. And out of the nearly three thousand students attending Emerson in 1927, only seven were black. According to James Lane’s City of the Century and evidenced in school yearbooks prior to 1927, those black students were hand-picked to attend the school because of their fair skin. I learned that by the end of 1927, all black students had been forced to leave.

The 1927-28 school year began with the transfer of twenty or so black students into Emerson. Accounts vary as to why. A history of Emerson, published in the ad book for the school’s centennial celebration in 2008, cited redistricting as the reason. Another account cited the poor and overcrowding conditions of the nearby Virginia Street School. Within three weeks, about 900 white students suddenly boycotted the transfer. Emerson’s 1928 yearbook recalled events through snippets like these:

September 7: School starts.

September 10: New students (“confusion”).

September 22: Strike! Strike! Mass meetings. Esh the orator.

September 23: Still strike! Meeting in East Side Park. Picture in all the papers.

September 25: Board of Ed acts. Meeting in Auditorium. Everyone talks. Pleasings, threats, promises, denials, defiance, etc.! Big Joe has a say.

September 27: All is well, oil is spread on the troubled waters. Everyone is back in school.

According to one historic account (and the dates vary; some sources have this occurring in 1926), a locked door on the morning of September 22 led to a logjam of teenagers in the hallway. A single negative remark towards a group of black students led to the week-long walkout. Students Drucilla Miller and Lucia Beddow summed it up in the 1928 yearbook this way: “Then, too, remember the dreadful strike? And the strikers, and the strike leaders, and the “scabs?” We’ll not soon forget that, will we?”

In the end, black seniors who attended Emerson before the transfer were allowed to return to school, only to be asked to leave for good by November 1927. The boycott resulted in the construction of Roosevelt High School in 1931, Gary’s first school built exclusively to serve the black community. In 2003, the Gary Community School Corporation awarded one of the last surviving black students displaced by the boycott her high school diploma.

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Front entrance of Emerson. The school ended its days as a visual and performing arts school.

Ironically, this incident was just the first of two boycotts stemming from integration; the other, more widely publicized because of Frank Sinatra’s involvement, occurred in 1945 at Froebel School. I chose to use the 1927 incident as a plot point for my manuscript because I find the Roaring Twenties fascinating, and the city of Gary was not immune to the glamour and corruption of that time period. It also provides a thread to connect my main protagonist’s exile from Heaven to an actual event of the day: black students exiled from the only school they’d ever attended.

 

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Before Pressing the Send Button…

Dog at Computer

I am a dog lover. For me, my poodle and Corgi are my children. When the time came to find a place to board them for a couple of days, I took my time looking for the right place. I insisted on a tour of each facility I considered. I checked the crates they’d be housed in, the outdoor pen where they’d be walked. I also wanted to know the feeding and walking schedule. I even talked to the staff to gauge the personality of the place. My goal was not finding a facility to leave my dogs for a few days. I needed to know that my babies would be taken care of once they left me.

I consider my short stories my other babies. Like my beloved dogs, I nurture each written piece, feeding them the right amount of dialogue, imagery and exposition. I take them around the block a few times, fielding advice from my critique group members. And when the time comes for me to submit them for publication, I make sure I take a look around before giving my hard work over to just anybody.

For any writer, the submission process should involve more than just the idea of having something published. A great deal of research is needed to ensure the likelihood of not only acceptance by the publication, but that an audience is available to read it. Reading the submission guidelines is just the beginning. That would be like choosing a place to board my dogs based solely on what the building looked like on the outside. Read samples of recently printed short stories or articles in the publication to determine if they match the style and tone of your piece. Publication mediums—whether electronic, print or both—should also be considered. While some print publications have an established audience of dedicated readers, in my experience, electronic publications have the potential of being shared across several on-line platforms, thereby reaching a much wider audience. The frequency of publication, payment, rights, and response time for submissions are additional items that should be researched before deciding on a potential home for your work.

As a reader for Short Fiction Break, I’ve had the privilege of being on the other side of the submission process. Reading work with glaring typographical errors, missing or odd cover letters, and some well-crafted work that just didn’t fit with what Short Fiction Break has published gives me an appreciation for the process. I now think twice before hitting the “Send” button on my own submissions.

Consider the importance of your project when the time comes to submit a manuscript, poem or short story. Consider all the time and effort you put into crafting it. Consider the love you have for your “baby.” Then begin the work to ensure your baby will be taken care of, meaning read and appreciated, once it leaves you.

This post previously appeared at Indiana Writers’ Consortium

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