It might sound like highlights from the classic syndicated newspaper feature-turned-TV show of the 1980s "Ripley's Believe It or Not!"
But Lake County holds honors for having a rich history and still existing landscape of unusual and fascinating facts, famed names and features so often forgotten.
Here are 20 interesting highlights to remember and further investigate about Lake County's important people, places and moments that mattered from the past and still valued as the memories of today. How many did you already know?
1. Michael's museum? — Starting in 2009, just months after Michael Jackson's death, his father, Joe Jackson, teamed with Gary Mayor Rudy Clay heralding the development of a major entertainment and amusement complex for Gary. The announcement came with much fanfare at a news conference in Las Vegas. The unveiled artist sketch rendering promised a lavish landscape planned for a 10-acre stretch owned by the city between City Hall and the Genesis Convention Center, boasting everything from a hotel, museum and shopping strip to restaurants and a state-of-the-art performing arts center. Also included? A $300 million price tag. While a check for $10,000 was presented at the Las Vegas conference and Mr. Jackson later hosted private events to sell donors "memorial bricks, priced from $100 for small bricks and up to $1,000 for a bench," no development has unfolded.
2. More bubbles — Though founded in England in 1885 by brothers William and James Lever, Lever Bros. Soap Co. crossed the ocean to build the Lever Bros. Hammond Plant at 1200 Calumet Ave. in 1930. Early 1900s advertisements touted the company as "Lever Brothers: The Soap Makers for Queen Victoria." It's still in operation today, and throughout the decades, has manufactured products such as vegetable shortenings, margarine, bar soaps and detergents, including producing popular brands like Mrs. Butterworth's Syrup, Life Bouy, Lux, Rinso, Swan and Imperial Margarine.
3. Purple passion — On Sept. 18, 1992, movie icon Elizabeth Taylor "visited" our region via satellite at what was then called the Southlake Mall. She participated in a two-hour satellite chat with fans who gathered at JCPenney's. The publicity event was to promote her fragrances, with Passion first launched in 1988, followed by White Diamonds in 1991, then Black Pearls in 1996 and Violet Eyes in April 2010.
4. What a ride — At the busy intersection of U.S. 30 and U.S. 41., the neighbor of Teibel's restaurant in Schererville on the opposite corner was Sauzer's Kiddieland, which closed in 1994. The 15-acre amusement park was anchored next to Sauzer's Waffle Shop and launched by Frank Sauzer. It opened in 1949 as a destination attraction of 18 rides, assorted games and picnic areas.
5. Dining distinction — Phil Smidt's restaurant in Whiting, prized for "boned and buttered lake perch and frog legs" and gooseberry pie, outshined many of downtown Chicago's most famed ritzy restaurants and attracted frequent celebrity diners like Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. It closed in 2007 after 97 years.
6. Banking on it — While much is made of gangster John Dillinger's escape from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, his first claim-to-fame connection to Northwest Indiana was the grand architectural jewel of finance in the region. Public Enemy No. 1 robbed the First National Bank of East Chicago on Jan. 15, 1934. And though the bank survived the Great Depression and Dillinger's reign, it disappeared in 2005 to make way for a Walgreens.
7. Tower power — Meyer's Castle on U.S. 30 in Dyer is on the National Register of Historic Places and home to an Argentinean steakhouse and to the Urquiza family. Joseph E. Meyer, who modeled and designed the castle in tribute to one in Scotland, worked with architect Cosbey Bernard Sr. to have it completed in 1934. It sits on a hillside surrounded by more than 250 wooded acres. The castle features 165 windows, octagon-shaped bays in the main house, an imported French chandelier, oak and walnut paneling, seven chimneys and a bathtub once displayed at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. The construction of the walls required 150 railroad cars to haul limestone from Lannon, Wis.
8. The Wright idea — Most people associate architect Frank Lloyd Wright with Oak Park, Ill., and the home there where he was once lived. But Gary once also boasted one of Wright's homes. A decaying example of Wright's work was located at 600 Filmore St., tagged by preservationists as The Wynant, named for its late owners. It was an excellent example of the architect's American System Houses, a short-lived line of premanufactured quality homes he introduced from 1916 to 1917. The onset of World War I and the conservation of resources and building materials forced Wright to abandon the line. The Wynant House was one the last built residential home examples in Indiana from Wright's "Prairie School" period of architecture. It was destroyed by an arson fire in January 2006.
9. Trumped — Long before his 2016 presidential bid, Donald Trump and his private jet plane were regular visitors to Gary, the home of his mermaid-themed Trump Casino, which opened June 11, 1996, in Buffington Harbor. As owner of the Miss U.S.A. Pageant, The Donald promised to bring the national beauty pageant telecast to Gary for three years, but only managed two years of parades of competing state contestants trekking to the Steel City in 2001 and 2002. By 2006, Trump had sold his casino and said goodbye to Gary.
10. Martha's menu — Martha Stewart also made her way to Gary in March 2001, as a favor to Donald Trump to serve as a celebrity judge for the Miss U.S.A. telecast. While in town, she dined with the other judges at Miller Beach Bakery Cafe. "Oh, the Miss U.S.A Pageant, certainly I remember being there in Gary," Stewart said, when interviewed by The Times in 2005. "It's not an experience I would forget. Let me say I found the whole experience very interesting."
11. Getting hitched — What do Red Skelton, Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali and Rudolph Valentino all have in common? All of these luminaries received marriage licenses at the Marriage Mill, a.k.a. the old Lake County Courthouse in Crown Point. Between 1915 and 1940, the courthouse was open 24/7, granting quick marriage licenses and marrying more than 170,000 couples, amazing for a small town that had a population of just 4,000 in 1930.
12. Stage right -- The Hammond Civic Center, 5825 Sohl Ave., is the 4,500-seat arena that opened in 1938 and is still featuring performances. But from the 1940s to the 1980s, it was cherished by the Region as the place to see some of the biggest acts in show biz. George Jones, Johnny Cash, Red Foley, Roy Orbinson, Roger Miller, Skeeter Davis, Chuck Berry, The Animals, Peter Frampton, Blue Oyster Cult, ZZ Top, REO Speedwagon, Rare Earth, Nazareth, KISS, Styxx, Earth, Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, Ted Nugent, Judas Priest and Cheap Trick have all played this same stage.
13. Clocked in — Even though the scenes for the now classic 1981 film "A Christmas Story" were filmed in Cleveland, the story set in fictitious Hohman, Ind. remains rooted in Hammond, the hometown of the story's author Jean Shepherd. One of the favorite scenes involves the kids visit with Santa Claus at the local department store called Higbee's. Though the store is fictitious, it is based on Goldblatt's department store in Hammond. While the story is now long gone, the large focal point clock face from the store is proudly displayed in the lobby of Hammond Public Library.
14. Like magic — The Great Harry Houdini performed his stage magic at the Parthenon Theatre, which opened in 1921 as a 2,500 seat landmark at 5142 S. Hohman Ave. and boasting to be the second-largest of Hammond's movie theaters (the 3,000-plus seat State ranked first.) It was originally operated as part of the Warner Bros. circuit and one of the first large movie theaters outside of California. The Parthenon also afforded the biggest names of live theater, in addition to first run movies, with performances by the Big Bands of the 30s and 40s, and talent of the day like Houdini, comedian Jack Benny and even canine wonder Rin-Tin-Tin.
15. Cutting room floor —Long before Crown Point welcomed Johnny Depp and the location shoot of "Public Enemies" in 2008, Hammond got a taste of Hollywood for one week in 1994 when "Natural Born Killers" starring Woody Harrelson and directed by Oliver Stone was filmed in Hammond City Hall. The interior and exterior of the vintage 1930s building were used to recreate a city courtroom for a scene with Harrelson's character plunging a knife into another man. Alas, much of the scene was cut from the final released film.
16. Feeling dated -- Gary, which once ranked as the second largest city in Indiana, right behind Indianapolis, isn't so very old. It was founded in 1906. This date-fact is an important plot point in the Broadway musical "The Music Man," with charlatan Professor Harold Hill claiming to hail from Gary, Ind. as "a graduate of the Gary Conservatory Class of 1905." However, town librarian Marian reveals Gary didn't even exists as a city until 1906!
17. A big deal — George A. Molchan was a little person who hailed from Gary, Ind. and was famous for his work as "Little Oscar" the tiny hot dog chef for the Oscar Mayer Meat Company. When the company decided to launch a Midwest Wienermobile to travel the United States, Molchan was hired to be Little Oscar. He retired back to Hobart to be near family. When he died at age 82, the graveside services in Merrillville on April 16, 2005 included one of the Wienermobiles at cemetery, as mourners sang the jingle "Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener."
18. A knockout — Boxing legend Tony Zale hailed from Gary and was known as "The Man of Steel." Zale, was 84 when he died in 1997 at Fountain View Nursing Home in Portage after battling Parkinson's disease and other health problems. He boasted three championship belts and inspired Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" movies and served as the catalyst for his boxing rival Rocky Graziano's famous expression: "Somebody up there likes me." When Paul Newman was cast as Graziano in the 1956 film "Somebody Up There Likes Me," Zale was originally asked to play himself in the film.
19. Hot stuff — A visit to the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza in Merrillville has guests welcomed into the vast lobby overlooking the large atrium tropical waterfall swimming pool. Located just above the waterfall is the sprawling luxury two-level celebrity penthouse suite, which was once the extended stay home to stars performing at the adjoining Star Plaza Theatre. The posh hotel master bedroom used to include a glass enclosed hot tub with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lobby area. However, after incidents of partying and semi-clothed celebrities and their guests provided unplanned "free shows" in the hot tub area following their paid performance at the theater, the hot tub was removed and area transformed into a far more sedate private patio with tables and chairs.
20. In the stars — Lake County holds the distinction of not one, but two astronaut names of history fame. Frank Borman, now 87, of Gary, trained at West Point, and started as an Air Force pilot in 1951. In 1962, NASA selected him for astronaut training. He was a crew member of two historic missions: the Gemini 7 space endurance flight in 1965 and the first manned flight around the Moon in Apollo 8 in 1968. He worked for NASA until 1970. Locally, his name is uttered often, especially during rush-hour traffic on the stretch of the Interstate 80/94 Expressway that snakes through Porter and Lake counties, known as the Borman Expressway. Jerry Ross, 67, a graduate of Purdue University, is a retired United States Air Force officer, and a former astronaut who retired from NASA in 2012. Ross is a veteran of seven US Space Shuttle missions and holds an individual world record for the most spaceflights flown.