Indiana... The "Hoosier State"
Known for its basketball and the Indy 500.


See my Scrapbook of old Hammond, Indiana Postcards...

Growing Up in Indiana...

Hammond, Indiana is located in the extreme northwest corner of the state bordered on the north side by Lake Michigan and on the west side by the Illinois state line. Jean Shepherd, the humorist and author of that great movie "The Christmas Story" is also from Hammond. In one of his writings he described our hometown by saying "If Carl Sandburg calls Chicago the City of Broad Shoulders, then Hammond surely has to be considered the armpit."

I attended Hammond High School and during the summer months worked as a lifeguard for the City of Hammond. Initially I was assigned to the Edison Park Pool and one day, along with some other lifeguards, decided that if the pool had more water in it, we wouldn't have to scrub the body oil off the sides of the pool each day. So we went into the pumping station and tied the float down that controlled the amount of incoming pool water.

It worked. The water came pouring into the pumping station and the pool filled to a new elevated level, which we had concluded was the correct amount of water originally designed by the Purdue University staff of city engineers. We entered the pumping station again to release the float but the force of the water was so strong we couldn't correct the situation. Torrents of water continued to pour in...

Neighbors began to take notice when the pool flooded and children, leaving their bicycles in the watery muck, rode home on surfboards... floating on crests of waves that hadn't been seen since the Little Calumet River overflowed in 1955 and flooded half the city.

Soon, the city engineer "Boilermakers" received an emergency 911 call to shut off the main water line to the Edison pool. The Indiana National Guard were placed on "stand-by" and anxious residents ran to the local hardware store in search of inflatable survival gear. Needless to say, at the request of angry neighbors huddled behind fences of sandbags that had been quickly filled to protect their cherished homes, all of the lifeguards were quickly reassigned to other city pools.

I ended up being sent to the city pool on the northside of Hammond at Douglas Park to spend the rest of the summer in exile... Bob Dibblee joined me while others were dispersed to other pools throughout the city.

During the third year of our tour as lifeguards, the old group found itself at Hessville Park near Kennedy Avenue in Hammond. Bob Dibblee and I were joined by Jerry Betts, Dave Bowers, Jim Spoerner ("Spook") and two other guards. We all kept track of the number of "saves" (ie., how many people we rescued). I had 33 one year but Spook won with more than 50. He was accused of sending five-year olds into the deep bay to "see if you can swim"... of course, they couldn't and Spook would go in after them once they started bobbing up and down like corks in the 12-foot diving bay.

We all had our favorite stories of saving the "one that nearly drowned" but one of the funniest probably happened to a guard named Tyrone. He was on life-guard duty in the diving bay, day-dreaming, soaking up the sun's rays for his perfect Hollywood tan, when he noticed that a 30-year old woman who dove off the board was thrashing around in the water. Instinctively, Tyrone leaped from his guard chair, tossing his hat and his whistle into the air before he hit the water. In one move, he approached the struggling woman, spun her around, leveled her off, grabbed her across the chest and pulled her to safety.

"What in the hell do you think you're doing?" the woman snarled.

"I thought you were drowning," said Tyrone.

"I can swim, damn it! I was just trying to pull up the top to my swimsuit!"

I guess you had to be there...

Hammond was a somewhat innocent city in those days. The downtown shopping district was vibrant and prosperous. Goldblatt's was the largest department store in Indiana at that time. The Edward C. Minas Department store was known as one of the finest in all the state of Indiana. Along with JC Penny, Fox Men's Store, Rosalie's for Women, Woolworth, and Kresge's, you had it all.

Now all of these great stores are gone. The buildings have been leveled by the Pulaski & Sons Contractors, Lake County's largest Polish construction company, after the family realized they were more adept at taking buildings down than they were at putting them up.

My dad worked at Ford Motor Company and my mom was a homemaker, raising me and my three sisters: Nancy, Carol and Joyce. We had our share of pets including our English Springer Spaniel, "Duke"; later a lame three-legged dog named "Babe," and a couple of cats along the way. My mom continues to be a great cook and my dad is a great critic of her culinary art. Since he is a "meat and potatoes" guy, we seldom had shrimp, pizza, or Cordon Bleu.

But Hammond was heavy industry. Being only nine miles from the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, at night the sky would light up and you could see the orange neon glow hovering over the city as the steelworkers at the open hearth poured molten steel into the three-story ingot molds. And then, of course, in the morning you would have to sweep the orange iron oxide dust from your car and your porch and your bicycle... another kind of economic fallout that came from living near the steel mills.

You can read more about growing up in Hammond, Indiana, by picking up Jean Shepherd's book: "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash." -- a delightful, funny and entertaining tribute to this wonderful place.

(Please note: The city was founded in 1855 by a Mr. Hohman and Mr. Hammond. When incorporating the city, the two men tossed a coin to name the city. It was decided that the winner should have the city named after him and the loser would have the main street named after him.
Mr. Hammond won the toss and Mr. Hohman ended up having the street named after him. To protect the innocent and to give forgotten credit to Mr. Hohman, Jean Shepherd calls his hometown "Hohman, Indiana." but it's really Hammond!)

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