Popcorn king Orville Redenbacher’s statue at Central Park Plaza on Lincolnway in Valparaiso draws visitors who pose with the bronze figure with the popcorn-patterned bow tie.
Redenbacher and his partner, Charles Bowman, in 1965 developed a hybrid that popped bigger, fluffier kernels — and few unpopped kernels — by getting the moisture content just right for premium popping.
With the right marketing expertise, a popcorn empire exploded into existence. Popcorn became a snack industry staple. Americans annually devour 51 quarts per person, according to the Popcorn Board, an industry agency.
Orville Redenbacher lent this name to the signature gourmet popcorn he and Bowman created, but Orville's 1995 demise wasn't the end of the empire. Redenbacher popcorn remains popular today, although the company that owns the brand no longer operates a plant near Valparaiso.
Valparaiso University and the KKK
The Ku Klux Klan became very powerful in Indiana and came close to buying Valparaiso.
The Klan wanted to turn VU into a KKKU to indoctrinate college students. The university, which had been known as the Poor Man’s Harvard, was in dire straits and at risk of closing when the KKK was ready to buy it.
The late Larry Clark, who was Porter County historian, wrote about it for The Times in 2015.
“The 1924 city directory listed the local headquarters at 15 N. Franklin Street. The most dynamic year for the Klan in Porter County was 1923 when over 10,000 people attended a rally at the county fairgrounds. That same year, a group comprised of Klan members tried to purchase Valparaiso University. A deal actually was made to sell the school to the Klan in August 1923, but they could not come up with the necessary funds. The university was put back up for sale and a group of Lutheran ministers and businessmen from Fort Wayne purchased it in 1925,” Clark said.
World’s Fair homes
America’s first glass house is just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan. The House of Tomorrow is being restored to its 1934 appearance, having been designated a national treasure, the first in Indiana to receive this honor by the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation. The nonprofit Indiana Landmarks, which has leased the building from the National Park Service, is working with the trust to fully restore the nationally significant building.
The home drew national attention when it was on display at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. More than 1.2 million visitors paid an extra dime — $1.85 in 2016 dollars — to tour the inside of the house during the depth of the Great Depression. The model homes were between Soldier Field and Waverly Island, Zeiger said.
In 1935, after the fair ended, Beverly Shores developer Robert Bartlett shipped World’s Fair homes across Lake Michigan by barge to the new town he was building. The houses proved popular, drawing visitors to Beverly Shores in droves. Even today, people still come to look at the homes from the street, although public tours are infrequent.
Piano tuning school
Flip through enough old postcards from Valparaiso, and you’ll run across one from 1915 that proclaims Polk’s School of Piano Tuning as the “only school of its kind in the world.” It says so right across the top of the three-story building pictured on the postcard.
Historian Steve Shook, whose website on Porter County history is a wealth of information, said the school was incorporated in 1900. It was originally on the northeast corner of Indiana Avenue and Lafayette Street in Valparaiso but soon moved to the Merchant’s Hotel building south of the courthouse.
Caleb Polk was the president of the school. In January 1921, the school was sold. William Powell of Oklahoma, one of the new owners, relocated the school to LaPorte in 1925.
Ogden Dunes ski jump
The Ogden Dunes ski jump is featured on a vintage South Shore poster, but the attraction didn’t last long.
To stimulate interest in the new town, “Ogden Dunes Realty leased and sold part of a large dune near the entrance to the Ogden Dunes Ski Club. This ski club, established by Norwegian-Americans in Chicago, began to build the highest man-made ski jump in North America in late 1927. The first international competition was held in 1928 with an estimated 10,000 in attendance," according to a book written by Ogden Dunes historians Ken Martin and Dick Meister and published as part of Arcadia's Images of America series.
By 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, the ski jump was dismantled and homes built on the site.
Chair of horns
On the top floor of the Porter County Museum is a chair that has been described as positively evil. It’s made out of horns and looks like it could eat the person who sits in it.
The chair, which visitors aren’t allowed to sit it, is a relic from the Chicago stockyards, which were a popular tourist draw in their day. Almost every part of the steer , cow or bull was used in some way. Intestines were even turned into violin strings. But what could be done with the horns?
For some people, the trend of turning the horns into chairs was popular. This chair made in the Chicago stockyards is an example of one that was in use in Porter County in the late 19th century.
This chair, given to the museum in 1941 by Franklin J. Hassmer, originally belonged to his great-grandfather, a German immigrant who settled in Chicago and conducted a hardware business at his home on North Avenue. This chair was made around 1872.
Virginia Lamb was married in a wedding dress made out of a World War II parachute.
Lamb married a paratrooper who had come home from the war. In their eagerness to get married, and with silk still scarce back in the States, Lamb used her husband-to-be’s parachute for material for her dress.
It’s part of an exhibit on World War II at the Porter County Museum. Eunice Slagle, of Valparaiso, helped design the exhibit. She went to school with Lamb.
In the early 1940s, thousands of visitors a year from around the world flocked to Chesterton to stroll through Littleville, a miniature village replicating scores of buildings from around the world.
William Murray, a world traveler who had worked on the construction of the Panama Canal, returned to the Midwest to raise his family. The family came to Chesterton to work at Inland Steel in the early 1930s, living in a tent and then in a garage before he built a house on 11th Street.
In 1935, he was commissioned to make houses for the Rock Garden Inn on U.S. 20.
Murray made houses with the help of his son-in-law, Harry Koch who built a replica of Chesterton's Bethlehem Lutheran Church. By 1937, Littleville had 80 buildings spread out over an acre. The buildings were built 12 to 18 inches high to a scale of 12/- to 3/4-inch per foot.
By 1941, the town had grown to 150 buildings and included a model railroad, a lagoon and a stone mill complete with a water wheel. Most of the houses and stores were built from orange crates from Valparaiso.
Gas rationing and the rubber shortage in 1942 forced Murray to close Littleville, though the castle grounds remained open on Sundays for local visitors.
Indiana Dunes State Park
Those who enjoy the Indiana Dunes have, in part, a group of Chicagoans to thank.
Member of the Prairie Club, founded in 1908, “played a huge role in getting the Indiana Dunes State Park created,” said Serena Sutliff, Westchester Township History museum curator.
In the early 1900s, the Prairie Club set its sights on the Dunes — “the wildest country in the vicinity of Chicago.”
Thanks to the club’s efforts in drawing attention to the Dunes through publicity, events and appeals, the Indiana Legislature approved the creation of Indiana Dunes State Park in 1925.
Valparaiso's Col. Isaac Suman served as postmaster and mayor following the Civil War.
A 1911 news account of Suman's death in the Porter County Vidette indicates he died of heart disease and that his death likely was hastened by 50-year-old wounds he suffered at the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee.
Suman, who also served in the Mexican-American war as a teenager in the late 1840s, was the son of a Maryland Revolutionary War veteran who at one time owned slaves, something the younger Suman reportedly detested.
He moved to Valparaiso in the 1850s and enlisted in the 9th Indiana as a captain in 1861, making colonel in 1863.
Suman led his regimental company during the 1862 Battle of Stones River in an area that later would be dubbed Hell's Half Acre because of the many casualties. During the fighting near Murfreesboro, Tenn., a bullet known as a minnie ball passed through Suman's body, according to his obituary and military records.
Near the war's end, President Abraham Lincoln offered to promote Suman to the rank of brigadier general. Suman declined, saying he did not serve for glory.
Chapel of the Resurrection
Traveling down U.S. 30 in Valparaiso, you can't miss the grand building that stands as the focal point of Valparaiso University.
The Chapel of the Resurrection is grand and peaceful, beckoning students and campus visitors to come within, take a seat and spend a little quiet time in meditation and prayer.
Chapel of the Resurrection, dedicated on the university’s centennial in 1959, was designed by Charles Stade and Associates, an architectural firm in Park Ridge, Illinois.
The building, formerly known as Memorial Chapel, was renamed in 1969, marking its 10th anniversary.
Diana of the Dunes
Diana of the Dunes may be the Indiana Dunes' most well-known legend.
Born Alice Mable Gray in Chicago on Nov. 28, 1881, Gray graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago with a degree in mathematics, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory website.
She went to work at the USNO later that year.
In 1915, at age 35, Gray decided to give up the city life and move — legend has it with just a jelly glass, a knife, a spoon, a blanket and two guns — to the Indiana Dunes and set up her home in an abandoned shack.
However, if it was solitude she desired, the peaceful existence was short lived. An oddity of sorts — a woman living alone in nature — she was soon discovered by the Chicago media and dubbed Diana of the Dunes. During her 10 years living along the Dunes' shoreline, newspapers from Chicago to New York wrote about her life as a recluse.
Gray died in 1925 from uremic poisoning, but her legend continues.
Memorial Opera House
The Memorial Opera House on Indiana Avenue in downtown Valparaiso has a long and significant history.
After the Civil War, in 1865, the Indiana General Assembly gave counties the authority to appropriate money to erect monuments to honor war veterans.
Porte County didn't want just a marker, though.
A Porter County delegation convicted state lawmakers to change the law to specify "monuments or halls," and the groundwork was laid for Memorial Hall, now known as the Memorial Opera House, to be built.
The building was to be built for $9,950 by John D. Wilson & Sons. It took less than a year to complete, with the structure completed Nov. 8, 1893, and dedicated Nov. 27, 1893.
It quickly became the setting for political rallies, social events, community meetings and musical and theatrical performances.
Beulah Bondi was a pioneering woman in the motion picture industry. If you've ever seen “It's a Wonderful Life” — and who hasn't? — you've seen her as “Ma Bailey,” Jimmy Stewart's mother. But that's only one of nearly 100 TV and film roles she played in her lifetime.
Bondi was named Beulah Bondy when she was born May 3, 1888, in Valparaiso. She performed the title role in “Little Lord Fauntleroy” on the Memorial Opera House stage at age 8 and earned a rave review. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Valparaiso University.
Bondi left Northwest Indiana to seek fame and fortune as an actress. She changed her name to Bondi because her father disapproved of her choice to pursue an acting career.
She was one of the first five actresses nominated for the newly created Oscars category of “Best Supporting Actress” for her role in “The Gorgeous Hussy.”
Bondi never married. She died on Jan. 11, 1981, from complications of a fall — after she tripped over her cat.
Her films often appear on TCM. Watch for movies like “Remember the Night,” “The Gorgeous Hussy,” “Watch on the Rhine,” “Tonight We Raid Calais” and more.
After the Civil War, businessmen began building sporting clubhouses all through the marsh. Four large and a number of smaller clubhouses were built at Baums Bridge in south Porter County.
One such business was Collier Lodge.
The Collier family had long been established in the hotel in Brook.
Jim Collier took over the running of the lodge in 1943. In 1947, Jim gave an interview for the Vidette-Messenger, telling the story of the Collier family at Baum’s Bridge.
In 1904, his father, Elwood Collier, “constructed a 35-foot cabin boat in which to take his family to the St. Louis World’s Fair.”
Elwood then began the excursion business out of Baum’s bridge up and down the river as scenic boat trips. Unfortunately, the depth of the Kankakee was so shallow and unpredictable the trips were limited to when the river was high enough. Later, the boat was sold and lost off the Dunes beach.
The Collier Lodge also operated a small store, selling supplies to sportsmen who flocked to enjoy the bounty and beauty of the marsh.
After a succession of owners, the Collier Lodge is now owned by the Kankakee Valley Historical Society.
Two adjacent sites at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Porter give visitors a glimpse of life for early settlers in Northwest Indiana.
Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm are popular in the spring, when it's maple sugar time, but they're beautiful in autumn, too, when the leaves turn color.
The Chellbergs, a Swedish immigrant family, lived at the farm for three generations.
Go across the bridge, and you'll find the Bailly Homestead, a national historic landmark, where Honore Gratient Joseph Bailly, Porter County's first white settler, set up a fur trading post in 1822.
When the territory officially opened to white settlers in the 1830, Bailly acquired title to more than 2,000 acres.
The site includes several log cabins as well as the main house.