“Diana of the Dunes” Myth and Reality


Alice Mabel Gray: March 25, 1881 – February 9, 1925


By Ken Martin and Dick Meister


On January 17, 2016 Ken Martin and Dick Meister presented a program on “Diana of the Dunes” to the Aquatorium Society as part of its Winter Lecture Series.  The program was held at 3:00 p.m. at the recently restored, historic Gary Bath House in Marquette Park.  Over fifty persons defied the zero degree, wind blown weather to attend the presentation.    In the power-point presentation of more than 100 images, Ken and Dick discussed how a brilliant and rather introverted young woman became the mythical and tragic “Diana of the Dunes.”  Much of the information is taken from Janet Zenke Edwards’ Diana of the Dunes: The True Story of Alice Gray (The History Press, 2010) and from materials found within the archives of the Historical Society of Ogden Dunes.


The Myth:


As Alice Mabel Gray morphed into “Diana of the Dunes”, she was increasingly portrayed as a bright and beautiful young woman, lithe and mysterious.  Reporters showed little interest in her childhood.  Emphasis was placed on the fact that she was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago.  In later articles she was described as being raised in an upper-middle-class home in Hyde Park, the daughter of a wealthy Chicago physician.


Becoming dissatisfied with society Alice moved off the grid in November 1915 to live and romp in the Indiana Dunes.  Between 1916 and 1918 scores of articles on Alice romanticized her time in the Indiana Dunes. Alice became ‘Diana’, after the Roman goddess of the hunt, associated with wild animals and the woodland.  The goddess had  the power to talk to and control animals.


Alice was a free spirit.  She was the first ‘streaker’ of the dunes who bathed twice a day in Lake Michigan and ran naked along the shore to dry off.   The Lake County Times reported in 1916, “Cleaving the water like a milk white dolphin came a mermaid.  She made the shallows, rose up out of the water, then like a fabled nymph, flitted off into the shadows.” (cited in Edwards, p. 67)  She was the mysterious woman who haunted the dunes, teasing fishermen and hikers.  She later became an iconic figure in the movement to save the dunes.


This romantic vision of Diana was slowly replaced after the 1918 publication of excerpts from her diary.  After 1920 press coverage replaced the romantic vision with a tragic vision.   During this time she came under the influence Paul Wilson.  He was portrayed as a crook, murderer, bully and woman beater.   Alice/Diana died a tragic death.  Some even claimed it was a result of a beating by Wilson.   The myth continued with the report that she was buried in an unmarked grave in a pauper section of a Gary cemetery.


Myths combine both accurate and undocumented information to support the premise of the myth.   Myths are also important in that they express a vision for a better world.   The Diana Myth captures society’s love for freedom and for nature.  What we have attempted to do is to describe the real “Alice”, as well as to show how the myth of “Diana” shapes our appreciation for “individual freedom” and for “nature”.


Who Was Alice Mabel Gray? (sources, Janet Zenke Edwards, Diana of the Dunes and archival materials, HSOD)


The Gray Family

Alice Mabel Gray was born on March 25, 1881 in Chicago.  She was the fifth of six children born to Ambrose Beardsley Gray (1842-1898) and Sally Gray (1843-1902).   Ambrose was born in Fairfield, Connecticut.  With the death of his father when he was eight, Ambrose with his mother and siblings moved in with her parents, who had a farm.  The older children soon married.  Ambrose also left home early, apprenticing with a jeweler and then moving to Brown County, Indiana, where he worked as an eye glass maker.  He volunteered to fight in the Civil War.  Following his discharged in 1866 he married Sallie Gray (though no relation).   Their first three children, (Leonora (1867-1948), Nannie (1870-1948), Hugh (1872-1926), were born in Bean Blossom, Indiana.



In 1873 Ambrose, Sally and their three children moved to Chicago at the suggestion of his older sister, Emily, and her husband, Samuel Beers.  The Beers family was a successful real estate developer in the McKinley Park area, just north of the Chicago Stock Yards.   .


In Chicago Ambrose became a lamplighter with his family living in a home built  and owned by his brother-in-law, Samuel Beers, at 3445 S. Hermitage in McKinley Park. Alice was born there in 1881, as were brothers Harry in 1877 and Chester in 1883.  An industrial accident in 1895 incapacitated Ambrose and led to his death in 1898.


The year prior to her father’s death, Alice graduated from South Division High School (26th and Wabash) about a mile from her home and was admitted to the University of Chicago.  With the encouragement and possibly with financial support from the Beers family, Alice spent the next six years at the University.  During her college years Alice worked as a stenographer, most likely at the university, in order to cover her expenses.


In 1902 Alice’s mother, Sallie Gray, whom she considered her best friend, died.  As a result Alice became the guardian for her younger brother, Chester.   Both parents were buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Hyde Park on 67th Street.  Alice and Chester were alone in Chicago as the older siblings had married and left Chicago for Iowa and beyond.


The World Opens and Doors Begin to Close


While Alice suffered the loss of family love and support, her academic achievements open doors to a promising future.  Alice graduated from the University in 1903, receiving recognition for her accomplishments in mathematics and for her membership in Phi Beta Kappa.  Her professors encouraged her to send her transcripts to the University of Gottingen in Germany, at international center for mathematics, as well as a university noted for opening its doors, at least partially, to women.


Instead, Alice opted in 1903 to accept a position at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.  There she worked as a statistician and came to feel that her opportunities were limited.   Then in the winter of 1906 she left that position to pursue her studies in mathematics at the University of Gottingen.  She enrolled in courses but could not be accepted into a graduate degree program.  After taking courses through the summer of 1908,  Alice decided to return to the U.S. and Chicago by way of Liverpool and then Quebec.


Over the next five years Alice enrolled in one or more courses per quarter at the University of Chicago.  First she just enrolled in mathematics courses but later in courses in literature, philosophy and the social sciences.  She supported herself by working, most likely part-time, as a stenographer and editor.   One of her positions was as editorial secretary for the University’s Astrophysical Journal.


The two siblings whom Alice had the most contact during these years were Leonora, her oldest sister, and Chester.   Leonora (1867-1948) had married Ernest G. Dunn (1860-1932) in 1886, when Alice was five.  The Dunns then moved to Michigan, where Ernest and his family were involved in the lumber business.   Leonora and Ernest had eight children in 11 years.  In the 1890s they moved to Michigan City, Indiana, where Ernest became a partner in a lumber yard.   We can assume that Alice had visited her sister in Michigan City and thus became familiar with the Indiana Dunes.


Alice’s younger brother, Chester, with whom she was very close, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1907.   He remained in the army until 1913.  He then spent a number of years in Europe, working as a sales representative for U.S. firms.  By 1921 Chester had settled in Long Beach, Indiana, a lake front community just north and east of Michigan City.  There Chester served town clerk.  He died of a heart attack in 1941.


By 1913 Alice appears to have given up taking courses at the University, though she continued to do editorial work for faculty.   Now over 30 Alice had to feel that she had few, if any, future prospects.  About this time she also had an ill-fated love affair, most likely an older faculty member, who was either married or simply a believer in free love.


Becoming a Social Drop Out


In early November 1915 Alice boarded a South Shore train and got off at the Wilson Stop, between today’s Ogden Dunes and Dune Acres.  She had little with her, a blanket, a few clothes and utensils.


Why did she leave Chicago to become a hermit in the Indiana Dunes?   Alice was tired of struggling financially.  She was 34 years old without a steady income or a full-time, rewarding position.  Her grand-niece, Marion LaRocco, described her plight: “At that time when you rented an apartment, you got the first month’s rent free.  At the end of the month, Alice would move and rent another one.” [Quoted in Edwards]   Alice also described her decision in a July 23, 1916 article in the Chicago Examiner, “I wanted to live my own life – a free life.  The life of a salary earner in the cities is slavery, a constant fight for making a living.”  This was also the time that Alice’s ill-fated love affair with a man identified as “L” had ended.


By 1915 the war in Europe had entered its second year.  Alice had to be torn about what was happening there.  She had spent two years in Germany and had travelled through France and England.  Though the United States had not entered the war, there was increasing hostility to anything associated with Germany.


Why did Alice decide to experience living in the dunes, rather than some other option? It is likely that Alice had become interested in hiking while studying at the University of Gottingen, because it was a center of the German hiking club movement.    In 1908, when Alice returned to Chicago, the Prairie Club was just being established with many of its members drawn from the University of Chicago and from Hyde Park.  The Prairie Club organized hikes every week-end to the Indiana Dunes and other natural areas found in northern Illinois.  We can assume that Alice participated in these hikes to the Indiana dunes.


Alice spent her first winter in the teepee, built by William and Flora Richardson, who named it ‘Sassafras Lodge,’ in what is today’s Dune Acres.  Flora and William Richardson were naturalists and photographers.   Though living off the land most of the time, Alice continued to do editing for faculty in order to have cash for supplies.  Nearby neighbors assisted her from time to time by allowing her to use their address for mail.  Also during this period Alice began to keep a diary that included her daily activities, philosophical insights, and her unsent letters to “L”, her former lover.


When spring came Alice would on some nights unroll her blankets and sleep under the stars.  She also sought a permanent place of her own.  She decided to rebuild an abandoned shack out of driftwood, scattered pieces of lumber and debris that washed up on shore.   She described this: “All the furniture I have is made of driftwood.  Everything is driftwood here, including myself, and I have named the place, ‘Driftwood’.”

This was approximately half way between Baillytown and Dune Park, just east of today’s Ogden Dunes.


After spending that first winter and spring alone in the dunes, Alice attracted the attention of Chicago reporters.  They were enamored with this “rugged individualist”, living alone, making homes out of discarded materials.  As a result of scores of stories in Chicago and Indiana  newspapers, Alice evolved from being a nature loving, college graduate to a nymph or mermaid of the dunes and then to being ‘Diana [a Greek Goddess] of the Dunes.’  The Lake County Times reported in 1916:  “Twice daily, according to fishermen, the nymph of the dunes, whose name is not known, takes the plunge like the goddess of the wave.”


This image of Alice was enhanced when she was asked to speak at Fullerton Hall of the Art Institute on April 6, 1917.  The Prairie Club organized this meeting to support the movement to save the dunes for a national park.  Alice read her essay, “Chicago’s Kinland”.  She concluded:


So the Indiana Dune country, like Chicago herself, is the child of Lake Michigan and the Northwest Wind.  … Besides its nearness to Chicago and its beauty, its spiritual power, there is between the Dune country and city a more than sentimental tie – [it is] a family tie.  To see the Dunes destroyed would be for Chicago the sacrilegious sin which is not forgiven.


Unfortunately the momentum created by planning this meeting and the Prairie Club’s broader efforts to save the dunes was lost in the excitement of United States’ declaration of war on Germany that same month.  The first year of the U.S. involvement in the war also marked the end of the romanticism associated with Alice.


Eroding the Myth


The significant coverage given to Alice’s diaries in a series of articles in the Chicago Herald and Examiner from June 2 to June 6, 1918 was a two-edge sword.  The excerpts from diaries, written in 1916, described in detail the daily activities of Alice during that first winter in the dunes (reprinted in Edwards, pp. 119-140).  Alice spent most of her time alone, living largely off the land, hiking great distances to purchase supplies, visiting acquaintances primarily in the Baillytown area, and sending and receiving mail.   She described her contact on a regular basis with hikers and fishermen.


However, the excerpts from her diary also included the unsent letters to ‘L’, her ill-fated lover, as well as her unflattering descriptions of the faculty for whom she edited manuscripts.  It is likely that these latter details ended her editing arrangements with the faculty at the University, thus ended a source of funds for purchasing necessities.   It also undermined the vision of Diana as this innocent, young nymph living alone with nature.


Alice Moves West 


Alice’s ties to Ogden Dunes and Miller Beach began in 1919-1920.  It was then when Alice met Paul [Eisenblatter] Wilson.  They moved her residence from ‘Driftwood’ to the ‘Wren’s Nest’.  He was her husband.  However, no evidence of a legal marriage exists.

This was a move of about five miles west, an area that became the western edge of Ogden Dunes.   Why did she move?  We can only guess.  Perhaps they viewed the area as less crowded; perhaps it was viewed as safer for Paul since he had several run-ins with the law in eastern Porter County; perhaps Paul needed to be closer to Miller because of his economic ties with fellow fishermen, the Carr and the Sabinske families of Miller.


Samuel Reck, a founder of Ogden Dunes and president of Ogden Dunes, Inc., later described the ‘Wren’s Nest’:


as just back of the first dune in a sheltered place near Polliwog Pond.  The shack was built of drift lumber and roofed with tar paper.  It consisted of one large room with a fire place in it and a smaller room, or rather closet, off the southwest corner of the shack.  The fire place was quite large, capable of taking a six foot log and equipped with a crane from which cooking pots could be suspended.  The chimney consisted of a heavy steel [tall] stack off of a tugboat.  (typed recollections, signed by Samuel Reck, about 1930)


Paul Wilson was born in 1892 in Michigan City as Paul George Eisenblatter.  He became estranged from his family early and spent time in Pennsylvania and in Texas.  He was a large man, 6’2” and over 220 pounds.  He became a skilled boat builder and furniture maker.  From the time he was a boy he had numerous run-ins with the local legal authorities.  Just before Paul and Alice moved he had spent six months in jail.  This may be the reason he changed his name to Wilson.


They made an interesting pair.  Alice was 11 years older; she was college educated, articulate, an avid reader and writer.  She was a small woman, though stocky and strong.  Paul was quick to lose his temper; he was not educated and not articulate.  Yet, many of those who wrote about Diana and Paul, described them as wife and husband and as having a loving relationship.   He was devoted to her and she had a way to subdue his temper.


We have a number of sources about Alice and Paul’s time at the ‘Wren’s Nest’.  The first of these written sources may be the 1920 Manuscript Census for the north part of Portage Township.  The last person listed on the last page of the Portage Township census is likely Alice.  If it was, Alice was not very communicative with the census taker.  As a result the census taker identified the person as ‘Lorna of the Dunes’.  She was identified as single and 35 years old.  In addition the census taker added, ‘A Strange Character’ and listed occupation as ‘unknown’.      Those who were listed before ‘Lorna’ were families located along the north end of Crisman Road, not far from what became Ogden Dunes.


The second description is by Jacob L. Ridinger.  In 1975, as a resident of Ogden Dunes, Jacob shared his memories of Alice Mabel Gray and Paul Wilson in a letter to Joseph Thomas.  Thomas at that time was writing and editing a short history of Ogden Dunes as part of the town’s 50th anniversary celebration.  (Historical Society of Ogden Dunes, the Thomas Papers)


In 1919 Inland Steel, which owned the land between what became Ogden Dunes and Miller, proposed the building of a scout camp for boys and girls at the eastern edge of its property.  The scouts called the camp, Win-Sum, because it would be used year around.  It began in 1919 when barges carried in the first building supplies.  As a scout in 1920 and 1921 Jacob helped to build the camp, including a large 30’ by 60’ building that was erected on stilts.   This building served as a meeting and mess hall for the scouts.  Jacob relates their interactions with Diana and Paul Wilson:


Diana was a short, chubby person with swarthy skin from spending so much time in the sunlight.  She usually wore khaki shirts and trousers, no shoes.  Her hair was dark tan and cut short.  She seldom wore a hat in summer.  Her shack was about a half of block from the beach and a block east of the Camp Win-Sum.


During the two years I was at the camp, Diana was a very active person.  Early, each morning, she would skinny dip in the lake.  She and Paul would take long walks along the shore.  Frequently, weather permitting, she and Wilson would take sail boat rides in a boat built by Wilson.  Her shack was off limits to us scouts.  If we were caught near her shack while she was skinny dipping, we were given K.P.  We were able to overcome this restriction in-part, when one of the scouts brought out a pair of binoculars from home.


Wilson was a big man well over six feet and well built.  He never had much to say.  He was a good carpenter and boat builder.  He normally carried a six-shooter in a cartridge belt.  His reputation wasn’t too savory.  I recall he was able to carry a gun because he was a watchman for several beach houses.


In coming from East Chicago, the scouts would get off at Wycliffe Station [today’s Ogden Dunes Station] and then hike a mile or so to the camp.    At the time that the camp was constructed, Inland Steel was also sand mining the area to the south and west of the camp with railroad spurs laid to carry the sand out.   Like Alice and Paul, Jacob and the scouts walked or oared often into Miller for supplies.


The camp closed in 1930 when another donor gave the scouts land on a lake near Westville, Indiana.   Also the scouts found that the area had become congested with the building of the town of Ogden Dunes.


The last description of Alice and Paul is from Samuel Reck.  After Ogden Dunes, Inc. purchased over 500 acres in 1923, Reck had to deal with a number of squatters, including Alice and Paul.   He described Alice:


Diana was very pleasant to meet, quiet, cultivated voice, animated countenance when speaking, and able to converse well on a great many subjects.  She had great command over her big husband, who adored her in his uncouth way.  He was apt to fall into violent rages, though perhaps, this was an attitude assumed to keep away the curious.


Their principal occupation was fishing.  Paul had several boats, and gill net equipment.  Diana would hike to Miller with a gunny sack full of perch, sell them and with the proceeds buy such things as they needed.  She often went to the Public Library in Miller, where she was well known as a discriminating reader of good books and scientific works.  She would take an arm full of books with her and she had full library privileges.


When Alice and Paul approached us about their status in the late spring of 1923, I assured them that they would not be evicted.  I even had Paul build porch furniture out of dogwood and hired him to take visitors out in his boat.  But in the autumn of 1923, as the first roads were being cut through the dunes and a few cottages and homes were being constructed, Alice and Paul began to make plans to abandon their cabin and to sail to Texas in a reconditioned twenty-four foot boat.  I provided them with assistance and encouragement.  Much to my dismay the couple returned the following spring.  Unfortunately I had not torn down the cabin.   For the next eleven months, they remained our neighbors.


In the fall of 1923 Paul and Alice took their boat and headed for Texas by way of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.  The Gary Post-Tribune reported on November 23, “Original ‘Diana of the Dunes’ and Mate Flee as Civilization Intrudes.” This flight lasted less than six months.  They returned to Ogden Dunes in the spring of 1924.  In June Alice hired a lawyer to sue the Chicago Evening American for libel, asking $100,000 for the false reporting they had endured.


The Loss of Innocence


Alice received much less positive publicity after 1920, primarily because she was getting older and because she was no longer a romantic recluse.   She now lived with Paul Wilson, who had a very unsavory reputation.  After they moved in together, Paul was seen as a likely suspect for a number of robberies and break-ins of the cottages along Lake Michigan.  Though Samuel Reck wrote, “I was convinced that most of the depredations were committed by others.”


Other sources regarding Alice’s activities during the 1920s described her visits to Miller for supplies and more importantly to borrow books at the Miller library.  She also continued to keep her diary and to work on her manuscript.   Although the walk from the Wren’s Nest to Miller, especially to the library, was quite a hike, Alice was used to making hikes of ten to twenty miles.  Also she and Paul would often use the boat to visit Miller to sell fish.


On June 9, 1922 newspapers reported a body was found in the dunes.  Paul Wilson and Diana were seen as prime suspects.  Headlines read, “Diana of the Dunes is Being Sought in Slaying Mystery” and “Hunt throughout Duneland for Diana”.  No indictment or arrest resulted from the murder investigation.


About the same time, Alice and Paul were harassed by Eugene Frank, a deputy sheriff.  Their visit to Frank’s home resulted in a fight. Paul was shot in the foot and Alice suffered skull fracture.  On June 14 the newspapers reported, “Diana of the Dunes Mixes in a Fray” and “Dune’s Diana’s Skull Broken” with Diana in serious condition at Mercy Hospital in Gary.  While both Paul and Alice were recovering from their wounds, someone broke into the Wren’s Nest and stole Diana’s diary and manuscripts.   Thus, we have little left of Alice/Diana’s writings.


Diana’s Death


Samuel Reck in his recollections of the night of February 8, 1925:


After we had gone to bed, there was a tapping on the bedroom window and I got up to let in Paul Wilson, he told me ‘Diana is awful sick, Mr. Reck, I wish you would get a doctor.”  I dressed and drove to Gary for Dr. De Long. [The DeLongs also had a cottage in Ogden Dunes.]  As the sand was frozen, I drove down the beach to be near their shack.  The doctor soon diagnosed the case.  Uremic poisoning Diana was then in a coma.  …  I took the doctor back to town and came back with some medicine.  About 5 a.m. she quietly passed away in the arms of Paul.


Following Alice’s death, Paul was inconsolable and he made plans to carry her body to a high dune where he had prepared a funeral pyre.  Alice had told him that she wished to be cremated on Mount Tom with her ashes scattered by the North Wind.  However, Samuel Reck convinced Paul to have a funeral and to have her buried.


Reck contacted Alice’s sister Leonora in Michigan City and her brother Chester in Long Beach.  At first, according to Reck, they had no desire to have anything to do with the funeral.  Reck convinced them to be responsible for the funeral. Chester Dunn, a son of Leonora and Ernest Dunn, who was a respected banker in Gary, purchased a plot in Oak Hill Cemetery in Glen Park and paid for the funeral.  Though there was no stone to mark the grave, Alice was not buried in a ‘potter’s’ field.   She was buried near many of the great families that had created Gary.  For example, the Wildermuth Family plot is nearby.   Ora Wildermuth was the first lawyer in Gary in 1906 and in 1910 became the first City Judge of Gary.  Later he served as the first president of the Gary Public Library.  His civic leadership was recognized in the 1960s by naming of the library in Miller after him.   Given Alice’s love of books it was appropriate that she shared an area of the cemetery with Ora Wildermuth.


Shortly after Alice’s death, Paul Wilson left Ogden Dunes and with him her writings and manuscript, if they existed.  Reck then had the cabin demolished.



Alice Mabel Gray Lives on as “Diana of the Dunes”


The real life of Alice Mabel Gray differs in many ways from the myth.   She was not a spoiled daughter of an upper middle-class family of a Chicago physician.   She was the daughter of a lamplighter who died as a result of an industrial accident.  She was not beautiful, nor did she come to the Indiana Dunes as a young woman.   She was nearly 34 years old when she got off the South Shore in November 1915.  She was certainly brilliant and was a Phi Beta Kappa mathematics graduate of the University of Chicago.  However, she worked her way through the six years it took to graduate.  During these years she buried both her parents and in her last year as a student she was also the guardian of her youngest brother, Chester.    Alice was quite articulate as reflected in her essay ‘Chicago’s Kinland’ and in the excerpts from her diary.


She was also significantly different from her peers in the early 20th century in that she, without any familial support, took on a professional position (though not paid as such) in Washington, D.C. and then spent more than two years studying in Germany.   These are significant accomplishments but not as romantic as living a life alone in the Indiana dunes.


The ‘goddess’ image was tarnished by the five plus years she spent as the life partner of Paul Wilson.   They struggled together and they had a unique relationship.   However, Paul was never described as a god, but as a cave man, uncouth, hot tempered, and a brute.  And when she died, she was not buried as a pauper, but in a grave, paid for by her family and in a location that was near the graves of some of the most distinguished families of early Gary, Indiana.


The more we know about Alice Mabel Gray, the more we are impressed by what she did during her life, as well as how others envisioned her.  In life she was both a romantic figure and a tragic figure.  Yet, the myth of Diana also lives on.   It lives on in the discussions of the role of women in society; it lives on when we discuss the relationship between individual freedom and social mores. It lives on in the history of the battles to protect the Indiana Sand Dunes and the Lake Michigan Shore.


The importance of both reality and myth remains deeply imbedded in our history and culture.   In the 1990s the myth of Diana was revived, as well as interest in her.  This is reflected in the raising of funds for a head stone for Diana, as well as many celebrations carrying the name of Diana of the Dunes.   Today, she is recognized for her love and appreciation for the dunes.   Though Alice left little of written work, she did leave a legacy that is based on both the real Alice and the mythical Diana.  Her death was tragic.   Yet, even today as one walks through the Indiana Dunes in the early evening one can, on reflection, feel Alice’s spirit.


Today one sees the importance of Alice as ‘Diana of the Dunes’ as the Aquatorium Society in Gary, Indiana plans to develop space in its facility recognizing the life of Alice Mabel Gray as a significant part in the movement to protect the Indiana Dunes.


Her influenced can be seen in the life and accomplishments of Gary Nabhan, who is an internationally known and respected ethno-botanist.  Gary Nabhan was born in 1952 in Gary and raised in Miller.  In growing up in the Indiana Dunes, he was fascinated with Diana of the Dunes, both the mythical and the real person.  This is seen early in his professional career when he wrote a cycle of poems, ‘Diana-Gone-Driftwood Dune Woman.’  This cycle was published in Great Lakes Review , 3 (Winter, 1977, pp. 83-89) and excerpts cited by J. Ronald Engel in Sacred Sands, p.126.


Nabhan, as a 25-year old graduate student, was inspired by Diana.  “In spite of her failings, Diana is an important poetic and historical figure.  Her radical sense of place has both inspired and disturbed many people in the Indiana Dunes County.”  In this excerpt of  “Diana-Gone-Driftwood Dune Woman.” Nabhan envisions Diana dreaming of marching up the Great Lake waters in winter to Canada and then:


to return to the Land of Sacred Reeds and Sand

to rest as the ice floes crackle

dissolve into a cool spring lake.



immediately waking you

drawn by the full moon air

down to the beach

bound into the waves

& swim

swim, swim, stroking the water

your breadth pulsing    pulled on

by some aquaspheric force

too strong just to be call current


In a 1993 interview Gary Nabhan described Alice as someone to be admired, “I think her combination of being a vagabond naturalist and a poet was very inspiring to me.”  He credited her for raising concerns about the preservation of the Indiana Dunes.  He concluded with, “I’ll just say her spirit lives on and I wish she’d get under the skin of more people.”   (“The Legend of Diana” by Bob Kostanczuk in the Gary Post-Tribune, October 31, 1993)


Today Gary Nabhan, a MacArthur Fellow (1990-1995), holds an endowed professorship at the University of Arizona.  He and his wife also have an experimental farm in Patagonia, Arizona, near the border with Mexico.


Postscript: Notes on Paul Wilson and Chester Dunn


Paul Wilson was truly heart broken by Diana’s death.  He was so inconsolable and angry at the funeral home that he was not allowed to attend the funeral service and burial.  After Alice’s burial Paul had a number of incidents with the police in and around Michigan City.  He married again on May 1, 1926.  Henrietta Martindale, like Alice, was a college graduate, Smith College for Women.  She returned to Chicago to work with landscape architect, Jens Jensen and later to manage her family land holdings in Porter County.  Following their marriage they had two children in between a number of separations and court orders for protection for Henrietta.  Paul was in and out of prison during the 1930s.  He and Henrietta separated and Paul returned to being a vagabond.  He died as a pauper in California in 1941. (See Edwards, pp. 113-117)


Chester Dunn, Alice’s nephew, was only ten years younger.   He grew up in Michigan City and then held a position as cashier in a Gary Bank.  In the 1930 Census he was listed as the President of Gary State Bank in Tolleston.  He also served as Chairman of the Gary Board of Works, thus very connected to the Gary elite.  This explains where Alice is buried.   Following the Great Depression Chester, who had married Martita Furness, left Gary and moved to Furnessville, where he operated a store almost until he died in 1963.  He and his wife are buried in the Furnessville Cemetery.


Major Resources:


Calumet Archives, Indiana University, Northwest.


Edwards, Janet Zenke. Diana of the Dunes: The True Story of Alice Gray (The History Press, 2010)


Engel, J. Ronald.   Sacred Sands: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes (Wesleyan University Press, 1983)


Franklin, Kay and Schaeffer, Norma.  Duel for the Dunes (University of Illinois Press, 1983)


Historical Society of Ogden Dunes


Hoppe David, “Child of the Northwest Wind” Traces on Indiana History (Spring 1997)


Nabhan, Gary, “Diana-Gone-Driftwood Dune Woman.”  Great Lakes Review , 3 (Winter, 1977, pp. 83-89)


Thomas, Joseph.  (editor)   A History of Ogden Dunes (The Post-Tribune, 1976)


The Prairie Club Archives, Westchester Public Library.


Diana of the Dunes article for The Hour Glass Newsletter 02102016