Calumet Roots

Indiana Harbor had athletic fields, a band shell – and a zoo

2013-09-22T00:00:00Z Indiana Harbor had athletic fields, a band shell – and a zooBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist nwitimes.com
September 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

We had a variety of diversions in my hometown of Indiana Harbor. The most obvious was our zoo.

It was a convenient zoo in more than one way. Located adjacent to a children’s playground, it was possible for a mother to sit on the border and send one child indoors and another outdoors to the swings and such. Right next to the outdoor park were two fields, left and center, of the town baseball park.

On the other side of the brick zoo building was a band pavilion. After the first few concerts in 1927, when the structure was built, no activity flowed from its shell. On the other hand, the side of the shell housed an ice cream store, which was always very busy.

The baseball field remained the most important one in town until 1940, when Inland Steel built and opened Block Stadium. It was built as a memorial to the youngest Block brother, who was a fine baseball player. That stadium is still in heavy use.

The first busy season came in 1942, when an all-star team from the industrial league played a game against the Great Lakes Naval Base team. Although most people would be surprised, Great Lakes had a powerhouse team.

It bowled over college teams and industrial ones. When Great Lakes came down to play a team of industrial all-stars, the stands overflowed. In anticipation of the rush of such a heroic game, the park district built additional stands that could accommodate 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, over at the zoo, the most active of the animals was a baboon with its flaming-red rear end. It did all sorts of acrobatics. The monkeys were a close second.

However, by a wide margin, the loudest of the animals was the lion. It roared, almost on cue, and its voice could be heard throughout the land. Until it died at age 23, the lion caused more sleeplessness than shift work.

The old baseball field also was used for summer football. What a relaxing experience!

The regular football field on the side of the school went alternately from concrete to swamp. The pattern was that the field would absorb all late summer and early autumn showers, followed by the baking of the field by what amounted to a heat wave. Then the pattern would repeat itself.

There are two schools of thought on the result. One says the concrete field toughened us up so that nothing ever bothered us. The other is that we were so timid about taking a fall that we avoided all contact. The truth was some place in between.

Several plays during the state championship year define it. One is the tight game against Clinton. That tightness came from a game the year before when our tailback carried the ball on a buck-lateral play. He lateraled the ball a bit too gingerly and a swift Clinton lineman intercepted it and ran 98 yards for a touchdown.

That never came close to happening again, by Clinton or anybody else.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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