'Steel Giants' is not your average coffee table book

Indiana University archivist, professor combine forces to recreate history
2009-12-05T00:00:00Z 'Steel Giants' is not your average coffee table bookBy Marge Kullerstrand - margaret.kullerstrand@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

"Steel Giants" by Stephen G. McShane and Gary S. Wilk, with a foreword by Mark Feutter, is 304 pages of the real history of the region and a keepsake for anyone interested in local history.

This is a comprehensive history in words and extraordinary photos with detailed captions of the construction of the steel mills that literally built the steel towns of East Chicago, Gary and the Calumet region along the Lake Michigan shore and the people who lived and worked in the industry.

Wilk has been a professor of Fine Arts at Indiana University Northwest since 1977 and exhibited his photography throughout the United States and Canada.

According to the IUN Web site, indiana.edu, McShane began collecting as a child. Now he collects things related to the history of Northwest Indiana. The archivist and curator of the Calumet Regional Archives at IU Northwest, McShane is a leader in his profession. Under his guidance, the archives have grown from several boxes and file cabinets of records to an array of more than 400 collections.

They started talking about making the book back in 2001 when they were putting together the "Faces of Steel" exhibition in 2002.

"Gary and I were both interested in the history of how the steel companies shaped the region," Wilk said.

He said when he was teaching a photography class one of his students had a son who worked at the mills and she brought in two cases of glass plate negatives, some dating as far back as 1906.

"Then I found out Steve had acquired several cases from a U.S. Steel executive who recognized the historic value of the collection," Wilk said. "We were lucky because in 1977 we didn't have much of a dark room but U.S. Steel donated a huge beast of an 8-by-10 enlarger.

"I had never had my hands on such history before," McShane said. "After these negatives were made they would use a needle to scratch the information in them. A number of them had already cracked and broken."

After preserving the images digitally, they started working on exhibitions. But they always had the idea of this book in their heads.

This year the tome was finally done and printed by the Indiana University Press in Bloomington.

Wilk ended the interview by sharing that he isn't making any profit from the book.

The profits are divided equally between U.S. Steel and Inland Steel (with proceeds going to United Way on behalf of the companies), the Center for Regional Excellence and the Calumet Regional Archives.

Book signings

* Noon to 4 p.m. today (Dec. 5), co-authors Stephen G. McShane and Gary S. Wilk will be at the Indiana Historical Society, 450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis, for a book signing along with many other writers at a book fair.

FYI: (317) 232-1882

* They will be speaking and signing books from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 12 at Barnes and Noble, 2240 E. 80th Ave., Merrillville.

FYI: (219) 736-7788

* Also 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.Dec. 17 at the Barnes and Noble IUN Bookstore, in the Gallery of Contemporary Art in the Savannah Center, 3400 Broadway, Gary. They will have a power point presentation and photos on display.

FYI: (219) 980-6765

How it all began

At the turn of the 20th century, an army of workers descended upon the Northwest Indiana dunes to forge a world-class steel industry for America, and along the way built a city. As a result of the mills constructed by companies such as U.S. Steel, a small, grid-like city on the shoreline of Lake Michigan grew into a prosperous steel town, drawing workers from all over the country and beyond. The Calumet region became one of the most heavily populated and ethnically diverse regions in the state. The story of its phenomenal growth was captured by photographers from U.S. Steel in Gary and Inland Steel in East Chicago. "Steel Giants" presents a selection of these dramatic photographs, with detailed captions, showing the construction of the steel mills and steel towns, the early production of steel, and the people who lived and worked in the industry.

SOURCE: "Steel Giants," $39.95 (Indiana University Press)

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