David Lilienthal might not be a household name now, but the 1916 graduate of Michigan City’s Elston High School was head of two powerful federal agencies the 1930s and 1940s.
Lilienthal was born July 8, 1899, in Morton, Illinois. He was principally raised in Michigan City and Valparaiso.
After serving as a member of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, he was appointed to the three-person board overseeing the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA was established during the Great Depression so the federal government could distribute hydroelectric power to rural areas not served by private utilities.
In 1946, U.S. Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson asked Lilienthal to chair a five-member group that would advise President Harry Truman and Secretary of State James Byrns on the dangers of nuclear weapons.
The 60-page Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy, known as the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, issued in March 1946 proposed that the United States turn over its monopoly on nuclear weapons to an international agency in exchange for strict inspections and control of bomb ingredients.
The U.S. formed the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to provide civilian control. Lilienthal was appointed chairman of the new agency in 1946 and served until Feb. 15, 1950. He put high priority on developing peaceful uses, including nuclear power plants.
Lilienthal died on Jan. 16, 1981.
Washington Park Zoo
Michigan City’s Washington Park Zoo started when a retired animal trainer brought his bear to Washington Park for folks to entertain and to be entertained. That was in 1925, and the bruin was such a big hit more animals and some birds were added. By the late 1920s, city officials planned a full zoo.
The Works Progress Administration built Monkey Island in 1933. The zoo’s Castle, built in 1937 and housing small mammals, replicates the official insignia of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Eleven structures are in the National Register of Historic Places.
Michigan City lighthouse
Michigan City’s lighthouse, with its distinctive raised walkway and red roof, has shone its light on the chilly waters of Lake Michigan for 110 years. Photographers flock to the lighthouse almost daily.
Before the East Light shone from the breakwater, the Old Michigan City Lighthouse served closer to shore. Seven lighthouse keepers served at the old lighthouse, but none so fascinating as Miss Harriet Colfax, lighthouse keeper from 1861 to her retirement in 1904 at age 80. She and her lifelong companion, Ann Hartwell, lived in the structure and tended the lights for 43 years, through countless storms and foggy mornings.
After Colfax's retirement, the lights and lenses were moved to the new lighthouse. In 1933, the lights were automated and, just six years later, the U.S. Coast Guard assumed responsibility for all lighthouses. In 1960, the lighthouse was declared superfluous and was decommissioned.
The lighthouse’s legacy lives on as a major attraction and romantic reminder of more perilous times gone by. The lighthouse is still lovingly cared for and repaired by the people and government of Michigan City.
The most prolific killer in Northwest Indiana was Belle Gunness.
Gunness was born Nov. 11, 1859, the youngest of eight children who lived on a farm with her family southeast of Trondheim, a large city in Norway. The family was poor, so Belle was an indentured servant for three years to earn her passage to the U.S. in 1881.
Gunness married Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson in Chicago in 1884. The Sorensons opened a candy store, but the business floundered and within a year the shop went up in flames. Some historians reported that there were four children living in the home who died as infants. Then on July 30, 1900 Gunness’s husband died on the only day on which his two life insurance policies overlapped.
She used the insurance money from her husband’s death to purchase a farm in LaPorte.
Her boat and carriage houses on the property in LaPorte burned to the ground as soon as Belle took possession. She married a recent widower, Peter Gunness, in LaPorte the following year and soon after Peter’s infant daughter died. Her second husband died in a tragic accident involving scalding and being hit in the head with a sausage grinder.
In 1903, Belle had a son, Philip, and she killed a foster daughter, Jennie Olsen, sometime during the three years after Philip was born. Jennie’s body was found in 2008, buried on the Gunness farm.
Gunness had begun inserting matrimonial ads in newspapers around the Midwest, and respondents came to LaPorte trying to win her hand. She lured dozens of men with money to come to court her in LaPorte.
During 1906-1908, the Gunness farm was a killing field. In May 1908, after Gunness faked her own death and fled into the woods, her hog pen was dug up. Two small children’s bodies were found, as well as the body of Andrew Helgelien, whose brother was making inquiries about his whereabouts. The bodies discovered in the hog pen included widowers, married men, aspiring handymen, most of Scandinavian descent.
A former handyman said she murdered 42 men before she left and had accumulated a huge fortune, more than $250,000 that she took with her.
Indiana State Prison
What is now known as the Indiana State Prison is actually the second prison in the state’s history.
According to the Indiana Department of Correction, in 1858 the state was looking for a second location to build a prison. A Michigan City businessman, Chancy Blair, own 102 acres on the western edge of Michigan City and sold his property for $4,500. The first Warden, C.W. Seely, was selected and began construction on the prison with 100 offenders from Jeffersonville.
“The prison’s first perimeter wall enclosed 8.3 acres and each wall was 600 feet long. Through the years, as additional room was needed, the facility was enlarged to 24 acres inside the wall. There are 10 gun towers on the walls, and they are manned every day, 24 hours,” according to the agency.
Indiana State Prison is the oldest facility in the system. It contains the state’s only Death Row, inmates awaiting execution.
The prison is designated a “level four” maximum security facility, for offenders with long sentences and inmates convicted of violent crimes.
A 200-foot-tall sand dune in Michigan City, known as “Hoosier Slide,” was mined away, shipped out and put in glass jars. Specifically, the sand was used to manufacture fruit jars and glass plates. By the 1920s, this famous dune had been leveled.
The disappearance of the Hoosier Slide to industrial purposes helped prompt calls for saving the dunes.
NIPSCO’s Michigan City Generating Station now rests on the site where the Hoosier Slide once stood.
LaCrosse High School
LaCrosse High School is one of the oldest school buildings in Indiana still used for its original purpose.
The school, built, in 1915, originally served as a K-12 school, but now serves just over 100 students in grades 9-12.
The “new” gym was built in 1950 and is among the oldest and smallest Indiana high school gyms still in continuous use. It was scouted as a possible site for filming the movie “Hoosiers.” Basketball fans still ask to see the gym that is so small that it’s not uncommon for a basketball player to run into one of the doors just a few feet from the end of the court.
The still elegant brick mansion was built in 1857 by John Barker Sr., who came to Michigan City 20 years earlier from Massachusetts looking for opportunity. Barker ran a general store before investing in what became the Haskell & Barker Car Co.
The mansion was built by industrialist John H. Barker in 1857, said Jessica Rosier, director of the Barker Mansion and Civic Center. The mansion was expanded in 1905 to its present 38 rooms, including 10 bathrooms and seven fireplaces.
The Barker family donated its mansion to Purdue University. Twenty years later, in 1968, when the campus relocated to near Westville, the mansion was given to Michigan City, which offers tours and other events at the elegant mansion year-round.
LaPorte Civic Auditorium
The LaPorte Civic Auditorium was given to the city by a local philanthropist, Maurice Fox, of the Fox Woolen Mills, in honor of his parents.
Since its dedication in March 19, 1930, the La Porte Civic Auditorium has hosted thousands of regional and community events, including basketball games, concerts, proms and banquets.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who was seeking the Republican nomination for president last year, held a rally there.
Among the first companies to help LaPorte gain traction was Advance-Rumely Co., formed in 1915. The company, as its name indicates, was the result of a merger.
Meinrad Rumely and his brother John operated a foundry in LaPorte in the mid-1800s that built corn shellers and threshing machines. Meinrad bought out his brother's share of the company and incorporated the M. Rumely Co. In 1895, Rumely began producing steam-powered traction engines.
After Meinrad’s death in 1904, his sons run the business. Rumely's most famous product, the kerosene-powered Rumely Oil Pull traction engine, was first developed in 1909.
Advance Thresher Co. founded in 1881 in Battle Creek, Michigan, also produced steam traction engines.
M. Rumely Co. bought Advance Thresher Company in 1911 during an industry consolidation.
In 1915, Advance-Rumely Co. was formed. The Great Depression hit the company hard, and it was sold to Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing in 1931.
The Rumely brand for tractors disappeared, but the Allis-Chalmers presence in LaPorte continued into the 1980s.
The Chicago-New York Electric Air Line Railroad
The Obama administration renewed talk of high-speed trains in Indiana, but it wasn’t the first time high-speed trains were proposed.
The Chicago-New York Electric Air Line Railroad was planned in 1906 as a 750-mile direct route between New York and Chicago, some 150 miles shorter than both the New York Central Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad.
Trains would run at 100 mph, there would be no grade crossings, and the grade would not exceed 1 percent. Trains would run flat out on a flat route.
The run was projected to take 10 hours, at a time when the fastest trains took 20 hours for the same trek.
Construction began, but it didn’t go far. The longest section completed was 19.2 miles long, with a terminus in LaPorte.
However, it was popular with LaPorte residents while it was in town.
LaPorte County Courthouse
Before television and radio, courtrooms provided live entertainment for residents. In LaPorte’s county courthouse, the setting was dramatic, with stained glass windows, included a depiction of justice personified, and oak paneling and furniture. The skilled craftsmanship is evident in the 1892 building.
“It has been advertised as one of the most beautiful courtrooms in the state of Indiana,” LaPorte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz said.
Today, the courtroom retains its 1890s charm but now features 21st century conveniences like the ability to easily project videos for the benefit of the judge and jury — and, of course, a modern HVAC system.
The first elevator was installed in 1907, replaced in the early 1920s with a cage type elevator. Kids would come in just to ride the elevator. It was replaced in the 1970s, Schultz said.
The building has seen some remodeling over the years, but nothing as extensive as in 1937, when the entrance on Michigan Avenue was removed. An enormous fireproof vault was installed in its place.
“It goes from the basement up through the first floor and second floor,” Schultz said.
The exterior is made of red sandstone from the Lake Superior region. “I don’t believe there’s any other courthouse in the state of Indiana made of red sandstone,” Schultz said. It was shipped to Michigan City, brought by rail to LaPorte, then cut to size on the courthouse lawn.
Nearly four dozen gargoyles are sculpted into the interior supports and exterior walls.
In the age when palmistry was considered a science, LaPorte County native Dr. Scholl turned his attention to feet.
Jill Weiss wrote about him in a well-researched blog post for the Hoosier State Chronicles.
William Scholl was born on a LaPorte County farm in 1882. In about 1900, he became a shoe salesman in Chicago, where he got a whiff of a variety of foot problems and became interested in podiatry, Weiss said.
Whether Scholl earned a medical degree is the subject of considerable debate. But he became known as Dr. Scholl, regardless, and began inventing devices intended to ease foot pain.
In 1904, he set up the School Manufacturing Co. in Chicago. His salesmanship is noteworthy.
Weiss said Scholl reportedly would visit a shoe store, ask for the manager, and put the skeleton of a human foot on the counter to show how delicate all the small bones are and how holding so much weight can be hard on them. He used the skeleton to show how his devices worked.
By 1908, he was placing ads in trade journals and continuing to market directly to shoe stores.
By World War I, stores even advertised when Scholl’s “foot experts” would be at stores for personal fittings.
Later in his life, Scholl moved his side business, Arno Adhesive Tapes, to Michigan City.
School died in 1968. His business empire remains successful.
LaPorte Carriage Co.
The LaPorte Carriage Co., which stood at 506 Indiana Ave., made carriages and buggies before switching to auto bodies for several auto manufacturers. It was established in 1890.
Among the customers were the Haynes Automobile Co. and Apperson Bros. in Kokomo, Chalmers in Detroit and the Great Southern Automobile Co. in Alabama.
The plant was large, at one time employing 250 people and with a footprint of five acres.
At the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum in LaPorte, you can see one of the company’s products, a 1910 classic surrey with a fringe on top.
Neil P. Ruzic
Neil P. Ruzic was born in 1931,when boys pointed toy guns at each other and said, “Reach for the sky,” just like in the westerns. He grew up to do exactly that.
Ruzic listened to President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 speech in which Kennedy proposed a lunar landing as a goal for NASA. Afterward, Ruzic wrote “The Case for Going to the Moon” and gave a copy of his book to every member of Congress.
NASA later hired Ruzic to document the transfer of space technology to civilian life, everything from Teflon to ballpoint pens.
With rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, Ruzic founded the National Space Society.
In 1998, after being diagnosed with cancer, Ruzic began focusing on ways to fight cancer.
Early in his career, Ruzic was a newspaper reporter in Michigan City.
He died Jan. 20, 2004.
International Friendship Gardens
The 106-acre International Friendship Gardens in Michigan City is just blocks away from the Blue Chip Casino on U.S. 12 but seemingly in a different world, as an oasis of tranquility and beauty. Located on land that was the home of the Pottawatomi Indians, this heritage and traditions are showcased in the Native American garden here, one of six that highlight the gardening customs of the world.
The roots go back to Hammond, when three brothers created “An Old Mill Garden” for the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. The gardens so impressed Michigan City residents Dr. Frank Warren and his wife that they asked the brothers to recreate the gardens near their home.
The International Friendship Gardens opened in 1936 with the help of luminaries including Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who donated 200,000 tulips. The king of England sent plants and a royal gardener to make an English Garden. Even the king of Persia pitched in, sending roses. Besides six international gardens, there are 58 formal gardens, pathways, lakes and meandering creeks.