Tonight as you watch fireworks reach dizzy heights and explode into bursts
of color, try thinking of each burst as a Calumet Region Fourth event that
flashed colorfully in space and then was gone. Let me get you started:
Burst: On July 4, 1836, some 500 noble American Indians lingered at the
graves of their ancestors near the mouth of the Calumet River and then partied
like the condemned men they were. John Mann, the ferryman, had prepared a
drink that required no miniature paper umbrellas to announce its efficacy. He
added a pot full of lemons, a scoop of tea and several scoops of sugar to a
half barrel of pure whiskey and then added water to bring the potion up to the
top of the barrel. Observing etiquette to the last crooked pinkie, John then
hung a tin dipper over the rim of the barrel.
Through the obligatory speeches, during which there wasn't a dry throat in
the crowd, the Indians listened politely. They even listened to Chief Sharloe,
who promised that the government would keep its promises, which is like now
saying someone is real bad, meant precisely the opposite, a linguistic
tradition that persists. And then the games began.
While Yankees rammed gun powder into augured holes in trees and exploded it,
and Potawatomi spectators clanged anvils and frying pans, braves in feathers
and paint raced ponies at breakneck speed, stopping only to refresh themselves
with the dipper. Before the day was over, the Indians didn't know whether they
were native Americans or aliens from outer space.
And then, after the Indians learned the real meaning of Independence Day,
they departed for the West on their trail of tears.
Burst: More than a century ago, Whiting appropriated the Fourth of July as
the community's very own, and have since had a hundred celebrations of it, each
seeking some new height. Without fail, Whiting's Fourth always had the best
parades, best speeches, best fireworks, best boxing in the park and always more
pretty girls dancing at the pavilion than a man of my delicate condition dares
to remember. But until darkness fell on Act One of the Fourth, the highlight of
the day was the baseball game.
Whiting has always been inordinately proud of its baseball teams, and for
good reason. The town has sent at least two of its own (Johnny Mostil and Steve
Kraly) up to the big leagues. But on July 4, 1900, there was no joy in Whiting.
In the tensest Fourth of July game of them all, Abe Cohen of the upstart East
Chicago team stole home to break a scoreless tie. East Chicago 1, Whiting 0.
Of course there was no shame in being beaten by Abe Cohen. After graduating
from East Chicago High School in 1901, he went on to captain Purdue's team and,
according to the 1905 yearbook, become the best baseball player Purdue ever
had. In fact, Abe was so good that New York Giants manager Muggsy McGraw had
the phenom lined up to sign a contract and had even booked him on a fast
eastbound train. But a funny thing happened to Abe on his way to the Polo
While engaging in a conversation with a stranger on the train, Abe let out
that his senior thesis had been on ceramic (concrete) structures. That was
music to the ears of the stranger, who turned out to be a bigwig with the
Delaware, Lackawanna and Hudson Railroad. Before they were halfway to New York,
the stranger had persuaded Abe that his future lay in designing bridges and
other concrete structures for railroads. Abe never got to the Polo Grounds, and
within a few years he was the most famous designer of concrete bridges in
Burst: On July 4, 1906, the new town of Indiana Harbor, with a population
that was 85 percent foreign-born, closed its main street and set about the
business of celebrating the holiday like Americans. Right down Michigan Avenue,
there were dashes and gunny sack races, and all sorts of joyous nonsense,
culminating in a fire hose competition between the volunteer laddies of The
Harbor and those of other towns in the Calumet Region. And throughout the day
there was the sound of music, played by a Romanian band that had been parading
up and down every street of Indiana Harbor since early morning, signaling the
residents that whatever else they were, they were Americans and it was time to
get down to Michigan Avenue and crow about it.
In a relatively short time, the little band of Romanians grew exponentially
until one out of 10 people in the Twin City of Indiana Harbor and East Chicago
was Romanian. Of course, like everything else in the Twin City, the Romanians
on the east side of the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal were different from those on
the west side, separated by being from different parts of Romania and
practicing different religions: Catholic and Orthodox. But now, through the
magic of Americanization, they are one.
On July 11, from noon to 6 p.m. in East Chicago's City Hall Park, the
progeny of the original Twin City Romanians will emerge from their suburban
bunkers south of the Grand and Little Calumet rivers to re-join die-hard Twin
City Romanians, Romanians from other Calumet Region cities, and perhaps a few
non-Romanians in a Centennial blast - a Romanian Fest, which is a Roman Feast
with more danceable music. And to the strains of George Porumb's group,
Romanians and wannabe Romanians will pack away Romanian food galore - sarmale
(stuffed cabbage), mititei, carnati (sausage) and clatite. But there is one
The Twin City held an Irish Fest earlier in the centennial year. As a Scot
not given to conceding anything to the Irish, I must in fairness say that it
was truly a day to savor. The program was thrilling and just about everyone
hereabouts with a hint of Irish blood turned out for the event.
Well, you know the Irish and the tongues they carry in their heads. Because
the Irish constituted a fraction of the Twin City Romanian population, should
their festival turn out to have attracted more people than the Romanian Fest,
well ... let's just not even think about the consequences.