Hoosier History Live is an independently produced new media project about Indiana history, integrating podcasts, website, newsletter, and social media. Its original content comes initially from a live with call in weekly talk radio show hosted by author and historian Nelson Price. You can hear the show live Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET. It’s over the air in Central Indiana at WICR 88.7 fm, or you can stream at the WICR HD1 app on your phone.
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September 23, 2023
Northwest Indiana's offbeat aspects and sites: encore
Snicker if you must, because that's an understandable reaction to an annual tradition in Northwest Indiana. At the Pierogi Drop every New Year's Eve in the city of Whiting, a 10-foot tall version of the dumpling associated with Polish cuisine is dropped into a boiling cooking pot at the stroke of midnight. And in the summer, the Pierogi Fest in Whiting sometimes draws more than 350,000 enthusiasts.
Also in Lake County, a historic former courthouse in Crown Point was known for decades as a "marriage mill". Hollywood celebrities like silent movie star Rudolph Valentino, sports icons such as Muhammad Ali and Joe DiMaggio and other notables trekked to Crown Point for speedy weddings. No waiting periods, residency requirements or blood tests were required then. Now known as the Old Lake County Courthouse, the former "marriage mill" structure, which was built in 1878, is a tourist destination that houses a museum and distinctive retailers, including antique shops as well as merchants who sell vinyl records and vintage clothes.
The clothes won't be needed at two rival clubs, one of which dates to the 1930s in the city of Roselawn. The Sun Aura Club (which has had several names during its colorful history) and the Ponderosa Sun Club are nudist colonies. A third such club also flourishes in Northwest Indiana: The Lake O' The Woods Nudist Colony can be found in Valparaiso.
All of these will be explored when Hoosier History Live spotlights offbeat sites and aspects in the distinctive corner of the state often called "The Region". Nelson's guest on this encore show is Joseph Pete, author of "Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure", a new, photo-filled book. Joseph is a reporter for the Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper.
He lives in Dyer, where landmarks include Meyer's Castle, a 28-room replica of a Scottish castle that once was the regal home of one of the first millionaires in Northwest Indiana. Joseph Meyer, a horticulturist, founded a mail-order herb business and built his mansion and expansive estate beginning in the late 1920s. Today, Meyer's Castle is a private venue for weddings and other special events, but visitors are welcome to stroll around the spacious gardens where you can see roaming peacocks, classical sculptures and ornate fountains.
In addition to describing Meyer's Castle, "Secret Northwest Indiana'' poses this question: "Where can you surf by the largest oil refinery in the inland United States?" The answer, according to our guest Joseph Pete, is on a beach at Lake Michigan near Whiting. Even in the winter, surfers in full-body wetsuits can be found at Whilhala Beach near the BP Whiting Refinery, which Joseph says is the country's largest inland oil refinery. Steel mills and foundries also are within sight of surfers who are attracted, according to Joseph, by "powerful waves that break cleanly, especially when old industrial shipping piers or breakwaters block the crosswinds".
During our show, Joseph also will describe Roy Boy's Badlands, a tattoo parlor in Gary that has been patronized by celebrities including Cher. Its founder, Roy Boy Cooper, was known as the "Tiger King" because he kept pet tigers at the tattoo shop. The big cats are long gone and Roy Boy died in 2010, but Joseph reports that his widow, Debra, continues to operate the tattoo parlor that became a mecca for, as our guest puts it, "bikers, rebels and rule-breakers" as well as celebrities.
Of course, Northwest Indiana is famous for The Dunes, which Hoosier History Live explored in a show in 2019. Dunes history, including accounts about the strip-mining of many of the sand hills, also is documented at a museum in Chesterton that's housed in a three-story mansion. The Westchester Township History Museum "is a repository of information about the Duneland community", Joseph notes in his book. Other exhibits showcase the impact of Irish immigrants, including the clusters of Irish pubs in Chesterton.
No word on whether the Irish community in Northwest Indiana has a New Year's Eve tradition akin to the Polish heritage Pierogi Drop. Those festivities, Joseph says, feature a giant countdown clock and a rousing rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" as well as the giant, tumbling dumpling.
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