A couple of years ago, my primary physician took one look at my face and
referred me to a dermatologist. My subsequent visit was not my best day. I had
hardly flashed my winning smile when the dermatologist began shredding what
remained of my already-weakened ego.
She: "When did you go bald?" Me: "Who's bald!" She: "You know, you'll
have to wear a hat for the rest of your life." Me: "I don't wear anything on my
head but my strands and my crown." She: "How much have you cooked yourself in
the sun?" Me: "Well, I used to be a lifeguard." She: "Ah ha!"
The good doctor then demonstrated something to me that made me her permanent
She: "Where were your parents born." Me: "Scotland." She: "My mother
was Scotch-Irish and my father German; now roll up your sleeve and put your
bare arm down on the table against mine." Me: "Of course you know I'm married."
She: "Look at the difference; although my forebears came from a northern
latitude, my skin actually looks yellow compared to yours." Me: "Have you seen
a doctor?" She: "Your skin has no melanin; it's translucent." Me:
"At least I'm not transparent." She: "You've got the worst possible skin
because the sun rarely shines in Scotland; it just drizzles." Me: "Maybe that's
why I've grown these scales."
She then removed my flakiness, from my skin that is. She also removed an
ambition I've secretly harbored since we teen-age idlers at the Busy Corner
Confectionary used to sneak cheap peaks at "Sunshine and Health" magazine. This
is all by way of saying that there will be no weekends for me at Roselawn this
summer. Sorry Alois.
As a young man, Alois Knapp left the family farm near Innsbruk, Austria, and
hied himself to a monastery. Alas, the priesthood did not take. So, about 1910,
he climbed down the family mountain and sailed for the Calumet Region, where
even a priest washout could find plenty to do. Once here, Alois switched from
laving souls to saving lives. That is, he commuted to Northwestern University
and became a lawyer, which pays better.
After accumulating more capital than he wanted to walk around the streets of
Chicago with, Alois crossed the state line and bought 200 acres of land just
south of the Kankakee River. And, since he had an aversion to manual, labor, he
wrote back to Austria to encourage his brothers, Peter and Herman, to abandon
the mountains in favor of the flats of Indiana, where they could farm without a
It was a timely invitation. During World War I, every able-bodied Austrian
(mostly German) between 15 and 60 years of age had been drafted, but had
returned to find their land and businesses sold out from under them. To this
annoyance was added the problems of enough inflation to start a zeppelin
factory. As if that were not enough, the treaties ending the war had assigned
the cost of war to end all wars to future generations of the losers. Had the
brothers stayed around long enough, they could have watched these reparations
provide the powder that would explode into World War II. Instead, they accepted
brother Alois' invitation, and became Hoosiers in 1923.
Herman and Peter arrived with less than a thousand dollars, a condition that
was not immediately improved when they discovered that only 20 acres of Alois'
land was farmable. Nevertheless, they did without, paid cash for everything,
and pumped whatever money they saved back into the farm. All the time, the
frugal, hard-working brothers with their Teutonic tongue labored without
discourse, their Hoosier neighbors still nursing a grudge against the hated Hun.
Nor did the brothers' cautious style lessen the coolness. One day Herman and
Peter went to the local bank to borrow $500. The bank scrutinized their ability
to re-pay carefully, and finally agreed to the loan. "Never mind," Herman said.
"We just wanted to see if you would loan us $500, before we deposited
$500 in your bank."
Little by little, the three brothers bought good farming land to the south,
until they owned 1500 acres. Still, there was the 180 original acres of sand
and hills and woods. And then it came to Alois. He decided to capitalize on The
Great Depression. By 1932 he had an office in Chicago, as well as one in Crete,
and had become familiar with the tension of the times, and the inability of
people to release those tensions by means of a vacation. So, he decided to use
the isolated 180 acres to provide a convenient and inexpensive R & R retreat,
one for which a family did not have to spend a fortune on vacation clothes.
By the time Alois opened his Zorro Nature Camp, he had become a devotee of
health, fresh air and sunshine, as well as a modified vegetarian. He urged
these beliefs on his members of what was a strictly-regulated family spa.
Before long, Zorro attracted many members from the Calumet Region and Chicago,
including a preponderance of doctors, lawyers, teachers, businesspersons, and,
in time, not a few wealthy people. Although some members lived there throughout
the year, the camp was essentially a weekend retreat for people wishing to
relax and get away from urban hustle. Members lived in trailers, swam, jogged,
played volleyball, and generally engaged in what people normally do in vacation
places -- except they did it in the buff.
ROOTNOTE: Until he died at age 88, Alois preached the gospel of nudity. He
wrote articles for "Sunshine and Health" and other publications, and traveled
the nation to represent in court the right of a person to peel down in public.
After Alois sold Zorro in 1967, he became associated with another nudist camp
on the west coast of Florida, the home state of the 35,000-member American
Sunbathing Association, which insists that 40 million Americas have at some
time recreated tout ensemble, whether in hot tubs or on Indiana Harbor's B.A.B.
Alois might be pleased to know that nudists are now represented by a lobbyist
and a political action committee - called NUDEPAC.