Thursday, May 31, 2007

"I Love Galesburg in the Springtime:" Off to Sarah's Graduation

Jack Finney is best known for such such science fiction/fantasy classics as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Time and Again. But my favorite Finney work is "I Love Galesburg in the Springtime," a short story in a collection of the same name. Finney was an alumnus of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, which has produced a number of notable writers. (Carl Sandburg, Galesburg's most famous writer, went to Lombard College, which later was absorbed into Knox). And I'm convinced that a new Knox alumna will join the ranks of those notable writers.

I'll be going to Galesburg with my family this weekend to attend my daughter Sarah's graduation. Bill Clinton will give the commencement address, so I don't expect to be bored. The ceremony will take place outside Old Main, where Lincoln and Douglas debated in 1858.

Sarah plans to combine poetry and fiction with environmental activism. Many of her poems are about endangered species. Here's an example:

Sumatran Rabbit

Perhaps, to be seen, you never wanted.
World’s rarest rabbit,
Remote mountain mammal,
News of you came only from dry fossils
And fragments of bone extracted
From owl pellets. Proof you were out there
And being eaten.

Only twice in eighty-two years
Have we seen you.
Your striped black fur the right disguise to blend in
With cool wet roots
By night only you forage the forest floor
By day you are invisible.

The local people say
They do not know you.
Perhaps your secret is theirs too,
And they pass you a knowing glance
As the scientists walk away.

-Sarah Jane Wylder
May 2005

Sarah will be going to the University of Maryland later this summer to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Dark Side of Naked City

In a recent post about the Sun Aura Nudist Resort of Roselawn, Indiana, I mentioned that it had once been known as Naked City, and that it had hosted the annual Miss Nude Universe Contest. I had thought the club's earlier moniker a clever one, and was curious about the time when it was Naked City. My research revealed some interesting, as well as disturbing facts.

The resort itself began as Club Zoro in 1933, when it was founded by Chicago lawyer Alois Knapp, "the father of nudism in America." Dale and Mary Drost acquired the site later--probablly sometime after the Second World War. Their son, Dick Drost, took over the resort in 1968, renamed it Naked City, and began holding the Miss Nude Universe contest. The club was popular with truckers because it included a truckstop where the waitresses were nude. Along with the Miss Nude Universe contest, there was the "Erin Go Bra-less" dance on St. Patrick's Day, the Un-Fashion Show, and the Miss Nude Teeny-Bopper contest.

That last contest should have set off a red flag, but it didn't. It turns out that Drost was charged in 1985 with molesting a 13-year-old girl and with showing obscene materials to minors. Eventually he pled guilty to 10 sex-related misdemeanors and agreed to stay out of Indiana for 10 years. As a result, Naked City closed in 1986.

Its successor is strictly adults-only. And even though its name isn't as clever as Naked City, we don't have to worry about children being exploited at the Sun Aura Resort.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Back in the 1960s"

Once upon a time, in what was later dubbed the Magic Summer, I discovered the Incredible String Band. I was visiting my father, who was teaching English at Colorado State University at Fort Collins. I had gone with my stepbrother Paul to visit his far-out friend Josh. He seemed a pretty normal 15-year-old, but he had (or claimed to have) dropped acid so many thimes that he once had to take a second dose to get out of what he called Cartoonland. Nobody did any drugs that day, but Josh mentioned he had an album by the Incredible String Band. It was "The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion," and it had one of the most psychedelic album covers I have ever seen. (The group itself did not seem to be into the drug culture, though.)

The ISB (named for the Incredible Folk Club in Glasgow) was an eclectic group. It had various members, but Robin Williamson and Mike Heron were the mainstays. They sang blues, folk, calypso, gospel, Chinese-inspired music, and even a piece reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan ("The Minotaur's Song") . From the first track, "Chinese White," with its refrain, "Oh, will your magic Christmas tree be shining/Gently, all around, " to the final "Back in the 1960s," I had fallen in love with the band. My favorite was "Painting Box, with its chorus:

For somewhere in my mind there is a painting box,
I have every colour there it's true.
Just lately when I look inside my painting box,
I seem to pick the colours of you.

Thanks to the marvels of YouTube, we can hear the ISB singing "Painting Box," along with "The Half Remarkable Question." The clip was recorded from the Julie Felix TV show in 1968 . Felix, a British folksinger, joins Mike Heron and Robin Williamson in singing " Painting Box." The film isn't in sync with the sound, but it's still wonderful. Felix is simply delightful as a host (all-right, I've got a thing for dark-haired, brown-eyed women, but she'd be delightful even if she were a blonde). YouTube also has snippets of the documentary about the band, "Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending."

One caution: the ISB is a group most people either love or loathe. The dark-haired, brown-eyed woman I married can't stand them. We've agreed to disagree.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Sun Aura Resort: Legacy of the Huckleberry Queen?

On my weekly drive between Bloomington, Illinois and Elkhart, Indiana, I often pass through Roselawn, Indiana. It's a small town just west of Interstate 65 along Indiana State Road 10. And like most of northwest Indiana, the area was once part of the Grand Kankakee Marsh.

In the late nineteenth century, the marshes east of there (near Walkerton) were known as Huckleberry Hell, the Stomping Grounds, and South Chicago. During the summer huckleberry picking season, hundreds of people flocked to the region, and a carnival atmosphere held sway. There were saloons, dance halls, and gambling dens (probably not mutually exclusive), and a South Bend writer wrote that there were 500 prostitutes at the huckleberry camps. (This was reported as false by someone who said there were only about two dozen). In an earlier post I wrote about the Huckleberry Queen, the most well-known resident of "South Chicago."

An any case, the huckleberry camp was a pretty wild place by Victorian standards. And perhaps some of that spirit is still there, though a few dozen miles to the west.

Roselawn, Indiana is the home of at least two nudist camps--the Ponderosa Sun Club, and the Sun Aura Resort. The latter is not technically a nudist camp, but a "clothing optional resort." For one thing, it's open all year, and not even the most dedicated nudist would brave a Midwestern winter in the alotgether.

In the 1960s and '70s, the resort was known as Naked City and hosted the Miss Nude Universe Pageant. It still boasts the "Lady's Leg Sundial" from the Naked City era. In the tradition of its predecessor, Sun Aura does not seem to have the puritanical atmosphere associated with traditional nudist camps (at least based on the website). And there's one other difference between Sun Aura and the popular image of a nudist camp. Forget the tanned, fit men and women playing volleyball. There are some, but the visitors to Sun Aura, at least from my tour of the website, have about the same obesity rate as the state of Indiana. And we've got one of the highest rates of obesity in the nation, much to Governor Mitch Daniels' chagrin.

The Huckleberry Queen had been a circus performer, whose specialty was the "iron jaw" act, in whch she swung through ther air while holding onto a strap with her teeth. She sometimes rode bareback on her pony, wearing her circus tights, and evoking images of Lady Godiva. If her ghost still haunts the Grand Kankakee Marsh, I'm sure she's amused by the goings on at Sun Aura Resort.