Summer vacation travels and road trips take adventure seekers to new surroundings and the quest to discover geographical and area history claim-to-fame factors to learn about and experience.
But there are so many hidden and forgotten gems of fascinating fodder right in Porter County, many names and facts buried like backyard treasure in the region.
Here are 20 interesting highlights to remember and further investigate about Porter County's important people, places and moments that mattered from the past. How many did you already know?
1. Oh Baby! — Frank Daniel Gerber (1873-1952), the man behind the great idea to manufacture a baby food line attended post-high school in Valparaiso, at what was then called Valparaiso Normal School. He had planned to become a teacher. Born in the town of Douglas, Mich., he graduated from Fremont High School in Fremont, Mich., the same area he returned to to start the Gerber Baby Food Co., originally called Fremont Canning Co. in 1901, with his father, Joseph Daniel Gerber. Some members of the Gerber family eventually settled back to Valparaiso, which even became their final resting place, including his descendant Hannah Gerber, who is buried in Valparaiso's Ludington Cemetery.
2. What a Ride — A highlight of Northern Indiana, Enchanted Forest was a popular amusement park in Porter, Ind., at the intersection of U.S. 20 and Ind. 49, north of Chesterton near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. From 1957 until it closed in 1991, it attracted families with its billing "The Playland of the Indiana Dunes." It featured three restaurants, assorted rides and games and large concrete animal statues scattered throughout the grounds for photo opportunities.
3. TV Great — Valparaiso University Crusaders head basketball coach Bryce Drew is married to Tara Thibodeaux, who was a professional cheerleader of the Atlanta Hawks and is also the daughter of former child actor Keith Thibodeaux, who played "Little Ricky" Ricardo Jr. on the TV series "I Love Lucy." Today, Tara teaches dance at Eclipse Performing Arts in Chesterton.
4. Actress Accolade — Many people realize Emmy award-winning actress Beulah Bondi (1889-1981) who appeared as the mother of Jimmy Stewart's character in "It's a Wonderful Life," was born and raised in Valparaiso and graduated from Valparaiso University. However, what is not often referenced is that after she starred opposite Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore and Franchot Tone in the 1936 film "The Gorgeous Hussy," she was one of the first five actresses nominated for a 1937 Academy Award in the newly created category of "Best Supporting Actress." Alas, she lost to actress Gale Sondergaard.
5. All Washed Up — Josephine Garis Cochrane (1839-1913), credited as the inventor of the first commercially successful automated dishwasher, was raised in Valparaiso, where she attended private school. Her grandfather, John Fitch, was the inventor of the steamboat. Dubbed the Cochrane Dishwasher, she patented it and revealed her invention at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
6. Batter up — Hoosier Bat Co., based in Valparaiso at 4511 Evans Ave., manufactures 35,000 regulation wooden baseball bats per year. Baseball legend Frank Thomas and other MLB stars have swung these prized bats since the company started in 1991.
7. Famed names — The Memorial Opera House, 104 Indiana Ave. in Valparaiso, is a 364-seat auditorium built as a living memorial to the American Civil War veterans of Porter County. John Philip Sousa, who composed the marching tune "Stars and Stripes Forever," led four concerts there, the first being in February 1898. And during vaudeville, the Marx Brothers performed there in 1919. Actress Ruth Gordon, who won an Academy Award, an Emmy and two Golden Globe awards for her acting, once told Hoosier David Letterman, during a 1982 appearance on his talk show: "I once had a one-night stand, as in performance, at the Memorial Opera House, in Valparaiso, Ind."
8. In the round — The White House, at Jefferson Street and Morgan Avenue in Valparaiso, was an acclaimed restaurant, even attracting celebrities such as Liberace and others, until i closed in 1990s. Long before it was a restaurant, shortly after it was built by the Calkins Family, it was purchased in 1873 by Henry Baker Brown, who was president of what today is known as Valparaiso University. What makes the house, which still stands today, so unique is that all of the rooms are "oval" without corners, paying homage to the Oval Office concept of The White House in Washington D.C.
9. Losing religion — While Valparaiso University is famous as having "the largest collegiate chapel in the United States" and founded in Lutheran faith, the original campus school was started by members of the Methodist faith in 1859.
10. Here and there — Lincoln Highway aka Historic U.S. 30 ranks as the first transcontinental highway. The road's stretches through Porter County represent some of the more interesting "twists and turns" of remapping, when portions were "rerouted" after World War I.
11. Trailing off — The Yellowstone Trail was intended as the first transcontinental automobile highway in the United States through the northern tier of states from Washington through to Massachusetts when it was planned in 1912. Taking its name from the portion which intersected Yellowstone Park, a portion also connected through Porter County, still labeled today as Yellow Stone Road in Valparaiso.
12. Naming names — Valparaiso University has hosted many important and acclaimed speakers on campus throughout the decades, with Sen. Bobby Kennedy and President William Howard Taft ranking near the top noted names.
13. Bad or good? — Frank James, the brother of outlaw Jesse James, did his best to reinvent the family name following his brother's demise. In 1898, he toured the country making personal appearances, including appearing at the Porter County Fairgrounds in Valparaiso to shoot the start gun for the annual fair's horse racing contest.
14. A bigger star — Much attention throughout the years has been given to the nearly 20 "little people" who played Munchkins in the 1939 classic film "The Wizard of Oz" and their attendance at Chesterton's annual Wizard of Oz Festival. But in 1981, at age 78, actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, visited The Yellow Brick Road store in Chesterton to see Jean Nelson, who founded The Wizard of Oz Festival. Although her visit preceded the first official festival year and she became too ill to attend the actual annual event, Nelson always says it was one of her greatest honors to have met Hamilton.
15. Popped or not? — While Orville Redenbacher was never born and raised in Valparaiso, he became associated with the city because of his first popcorn factory location. When he died at age 88 in September 1995, first reports of his death as a result of "drowning in his bathtub," were dubbed as a hoax spread by morning radio show hosts. But in fact, he did fall in the tub of his bathroom as a result of a heart attack and death ruled to be a drowning.
16. All tied up — Thomas Lambert, who hailed from rural Porter County, officially changed his name as "The Great Lamberti" and became a famed circus contortionist in the 1930s. He even has a brief role in the Marx Brothers' 1938 film "At the Circus."
17. Back to School — Chautauqua Desks were the classroom standard in the early 1900s, developed by a man known only as Dr. Vincent and manufactured by Louis E. Myers & Co. in Valparaiso. More than a million desks were sold by 1913 and 2 million by 1929, including elegant parlor designs for the home.
18. A draining experience — Much of Southern Porter County in the early 1900s was a swampy vast area prized for wildlife and hunting, attracted famous names of the day from throughout the country who came to hunt and trap game, including General Lew Wallace and President Teddy Roosevelt. However, as the need grew for more agriculture, the lands were drained for farmland.
19. On the air — The Valparaiso home of Michael Essany once served as the location for what was billed as "the youngest TV talk show host," netting the youth an international broadcast contract on E! cable network in 2003 for his own reality series "The Michael Essany Show."
20. Something funny — Comedian Jim Gaffigan loves his Porter County connection. He describes himself as "born and raised in Dune Acres, a suburb of Chesterton," and even attended Purdue University for his freshman year before transferring to Georgetown. His high school years were spent at LaLumiere School, the private school in LaPorte, where he graduated in 1984.