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.
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