As someone once said, or should have, there is aristocracy in all classes. Most schools prior to World War II had a “Four Hundred.”

In Gary, the Four Hundred embraced the entirety of Horace Mann High School, located in the newest part of town with the newest and best shelter.

Schools generally had but one nickname. In Gary, the exception was Emerson High School, aka “The Golden Tornado” and “The Norsemen.”

All the other schools had one nickname except Horace Mann, whose official nickname was “The Horsemen.” Unofficially, the school was referred to as “The Four Hundred,” “cake eaters,” and “cookie pushers.”

"Cake eater" and "cookie pusher" died from rampant political correctness. They are still, however, used by doddering old timers. Athletes from Horace Mann could choose from among four letter sweaters: the red or white pullover, and the red or white cardigan.

Other schools had no choice. There are many theories about how the “c” word entered and thrived in the school lexicon, but the most enduring explanation is that it dated from Marie Antoinette, who famously said, “Let them eat cake,” during the French Revolution.

During that period, the truly rich lived like rajas, and the period led into the “age of enlightenment.” As the peasants became less and less trusting of authority, and the aristocracy lived lavishly beyond the bounds of excess, the cost of flour, and therefore bread, rose into the nitro zone. The inevitable explosion announced a 10-year revolution.

On July 16, 1789, the peasants stormed the Bastille. They hit the castle the following day. That’s about the time Marie critiqued cake. A little side research tells me that cake meant bread. And so, with a little dash of evolution, we have Gary’s “c” word.

Probably absorbing the drug culture of recent years, the “c” word became "cookie pusher." According to one dictionary, cookie pusher is a person who spends a ridiculous amount of time at social events, such as teas or dinners, at the expense of his work.

Exploiting the bakery theme, Froebel folk improvised on the original “c” and cake was turned into “cookie” and “eater” was switched to pusher. Some of the high jinks associated with the local language revolved around Eddie Herbert and Don Elser, both creative motivators.

Elser had an accomplice, his close friend Art Angotti, who opened Art’s Bakery. After the last football game of 1949, the graduating seniors played an intrasquad game with the varsity-in-waiting. 

At the wonderful Gary Old Timers’ banquet, the emcee appeared one year wearing a lapel button showing a fat-faced kid with a propeller on his beanie, brown frosting on his mouth, and the caption, “Born to eat cake.”

By this time, the original target of the “c” words did not take offense. Actually, they considered themselves a kind of elite. That is, they were complimented by the term.

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Senior Copy Editor

Jeanette is a journalist with The Times Media Co. who has worked as both a reporter and editor. She has a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Community Coordinator

Annette is Community Coordinator for The Times. She has been with the paper for two decades. A resident of Hobart, she graduated from Purdue University with degrees in English and German.