Tragedy in the Dunes: Historical Note

Saturday, August 27, 1938

On a warm Saturday night in August in Ogden Dunes a group of high school and college students had planned their last summer outing before most returned to their homes or colleges.  This group, informally organized, called themselves the ‘rafters’.  Earlier that summer they had built a raft which they used for diving or sun bathing, thus their name.    Throughout the summer they also organized many group activities, including scavenger hunts and trips to Miller or Chesterton.  They decided that the last activity would be a hayride. They rented a wagon and two mules and talked Carl Lawson, a handy man employed by Ogden Dunes Realty, into driving. Thirty-two of them met near the entrance, climbed on to the wagon.  A few of the rafters were year-around residents, others were from families who had cottages in the dunes and a few were friends visiting for the week-end.  About 10:00 p.m. the wagon headed for Stage Coach Road. Unfortunately, the only light was in the front of the wagon.  Thus, as they turned onto U.S. 12 to head east a large transport truck quickly descended upon them, crashing into the left hand side of the rear of the wagon.

In those fateful seconds Ann North, age 22, of St. Louis was killed; fifteen others were injured with nine taken to local hospitals.  Those who were sitting in the rear, especially on the right side jumped to safety. Mel Tracht, who had finished his freshman year at the University of Chicago, was one of those who jumped.  In an earlier issue of the ‘Hour Glass Newsletter’, Arthur Cash shared the story of how his older brother, Mitch, had escaped injury by jumping off the wagon before the truck hit.

The Gary-Post Tribunedevoted a large part of page 10 of its August 29thissue.  The headline read, “Truck Plows into Hayride Party; 1 Dead.”  Ann North of St. Louis had spent much of that summer visiting her sister, the wife of Dr. Rudolf Kornfeld.  The Kornfelds had one of the French Provincial cottages along Ski Hill Road, near Woodlawn.  He served on the faculty of the Dental School of Loyola University.  The article included photos of three who were seriously injured in their beds at Mercy Hospital in Gary.  These were George Semerau, age 20, Joan Thompson, 15, and Richard Palmer, 22.  Others who were hospitalize included Paul Stephan, age 21, of Gary, Leonard Whelpley, age 20, of Ogden Dunes, Warren Pike of Hobart.  Others treated at the hospital included Winston Henry of Chicago, Neysa Dalby of Gary and Ogden Dunes, Gladys Morphee of Gary, Mary Alice Cochrane of Ogden Dunes, Frank Thorpe of Ogden Dunes and Dorothy Rathburn of Chicago.

The events of that night in August left a lasting impression on the lives of the 32 young men and women and on their families.