The Beach: Gay Mill, Fun, and The Bizarre

As we can see from the 1917 picture of Carr's Beach (now Lake Street Beach), partying is nothing new on Miller Beach. The stretch of beach from Lake Street Beach to County Line Road is owned and maintained by the Gary Parks Department and is in constant use during the summer months. Wells Street Beach operates as a concession stand and parking at the north end of County Line Road. For a number of years the Park Department has leased the concession stand at Marquette Park. It's currently, 2015, operated as Carmella's Cafe.

Gay Mill Gardens

Later on, in the 1920's, the action moved a little further off the beach. Gay Mill was built just on the south side of the bridge on the west side of North Lake Street. The best description of its history was written by Mrs. Esther Pearson in 1970.

In the early l920's Gay Mill was built. Thomas Johnson an attorney from Chicago with his wife Frances Kennedy, who was a vaudeville performer, opened a dance and recreation hall on the west side of Lake Street just south of the Grand Calumet. They called this dance hall Gay Mill Gardens and they had name bands from all over the country. Among them were Paul Whiteman, Ted Weems, and Wayne King to name a few. Then in February l927 with the help of Judge Gary they received o a license to operate Gary’s first Radio Station which they named W.J.K.S. W the call letter and J.K.S. was Johnson, Kennedy, and Son, but they called it "Where Joy Kills Sorrow”. In August 1927 there was a formal grand opening and dedication when Johnson turned over this Radio Station to the City of Gary. At this formal opening some of the speakers were Mr. Gleason, Norton, Mayor Williams, Reverend Backmeyer, Rabbi August, and Reverend Deville. Some performers at W.J.K.S. were D.M. Ward, and you probably know these people, Ray ([not readable]), D.S. Davies who had a beautiful baritone voice, the Indiana Male Quartette, Alberto Duetterez from Argentina who played the guitar, Bonanova the Spanish baritone, Fredricka Pickart Grand Opera, W.J. Funky Jr, the Slag Pocket Four which was four Open Hearth employees, the Strom Sisters, and Bessie Franson was Staff Accompanist. The place was policed by two Detectives Gus Youngheim and Clyde Dennison and they kept things OK.

At this time Streetcars from Gary went as far as Lake Street just south of the Baltimore and Ohio tracks in Miller, that is they went from 5th and Broadway in Gary to just south of the Baltimore and Ohio tracks in Miller. Then from there a Jitney went to Gay Mill or a Jitney could be taken from 5th and Broadway to Gay Mill for 25¢. Gay Mill was forced to close at the beginning of the Depression and the building burned down in 1930.

Mrs.Esther Pearson The History of Miller. Duneland Notes, 1970

The beach is fairly quite these days, patrolled by the park police who chase folks off the beach at sundown. But it hasn't always been like that as the newspaper article attests. When this author first came to Miller in 1975, bonfires and skinning dipping were pretty common on hot summer nights. Whether they are "hoodlums" or not, residents are vigilant of tourists who park along the streets. Many cars get towed away in the early days of summer.

Gary Post-Tribune "Nude and Naughty Bathers..." July 2, 1928

A Bonfire Cremation on the Beach

This drawing from Richard Digby-Junger's article on the Chicago Press Club in The Chicago History Magazine.

Perhaps one of the most bizarre incidents on the beach occurred in on July 17th, 1892 when eight men spent the day building a funeral pyre 18 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 20 feet high and then the body of Morris Allen Collins was cremated on it at 10:50 that night by members of The Whitechapel Club.

The Whitechapel Club was a spin-off of the Chicago Press Club and its newspaper reporter members met regularly in Chicago amidst gruesome artifacts of murder. It took its name from the area in London where Jack-the-Ripper had operated only a few years earlier and the club's name for its president was "Jack-the-Ripper." A member of the Whitechapel Club, Michael Collins was the President of the Dallas, Texas Suicide Club, and before his own suicide in Chicago he wrote a request that his remains be reduced to ashes. His fellow club members complied:

The place finally selected was in that dreary waste of sand and bog in Indiana at the end of the lake. There was a secret trip from the great city to the Baltimore & Ohio train, a hurried run to Miller’s, a small junction village 30 miles southeast of Chicago, a dismal funeral march through the uninhabited region that separates the hamlet and the lake shore, and then while the northern sky was pulsating and trembling in the strange tints of the aurora borealis the monk-robed chaplain bade the dead farewell and Mr. Jaxon touched the torch to the huge pile.

One wonders if Drusilla Carr was among the curious onlookers and what she thought of the whole thing. Four years later Octave Chanute came to that "dreary waste of sand" to do his experiments and one of the reporters reported at the time that his camp was near the site of the cremation four years earlier.