Tammy's All Things History

Bringing the Past to Life!



Alice Mabel Gray: Meet Diana of the Dunes

Alice Mabel Gray

Alice Mabel Gray was a woman ahead of her time. She was intelligent, accomplished, a visionary and an early preservationist. Born in 1881, during the Gilded Age (1878-1889), she grew up in the busy city of Chicago, Illinois. The time Alice was born and lived in was significant in United States history. For emigrants who came looking for an opportunity the American dream seemed to be within reach as the railroad and steel boom brought jobs and instant wealth to people who might not otherwise have a chance to enjoy a better life. Alice grew up in an upper class family, educated and the head of her class. But she like many women of her time and used her intelligence and social status to further her curiosities in mathematics, astronomy and foreign language.

US Naval Observatory

After graduating from the University of Chicago, Alice found work as Computer (one who computes numerical data) under the direct supervision of Professor William Eichelberger at the United States Naval Observatory. The work was not satisfying for Alice as she considered, “the life of a salary earner in the cities is slavery, a constant fight for the means of living.” In 1905, her continuing educational interests brought her overseas to Gottingen University where she befriended Bohemians, who enjoyed free roaming and a simple lifestyle infused very much with nature. Upon returning to the United States, she took up a simpler secretarial job. Soon after realizing her true passion was environmental studies, she gave up everything and moved to the Lake Michigan dunes where she earned the nickname, “Diana of the Dunes”. This nagging attraction would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Alice in the dunes

Alice was more than a circus spectacle or a folklore nymph. She was a visionary and preservationist. She loved nature and longed to be as close to it as possible. In the dunes, Alice could observe nature in its original form. Alice was charitable as well. She shared her knowledge with others by educating the public. Alice passed on any information that she could get her hands on to make people realize the beauty of the dunes. She also wanted the public to know how vital the dunes were and how much they offered for learning and research. The dunes provided her a peaceful place to live and study. She found amazement at the reaction people gave as they listened to her speeches. She was able to sustain herself financially by selling driftwood boxes to buy needed commodities. Even though it was a far cry from the lavish lifestyle others enjoyed during the Gilded Age, she made her life simple, and it was good enough for her.

Gary, Indiana excavation, 1906

Solitude and opportunity for scientific research were short-lived as the encroaching industrial age expanded Gary, Indiana which was situated next to the dunes. The dunes became a focal point in a proposed steel plant that would bring growth opportunity for the town. The only problem was that the dunes being so close to the plant placement plans threatened the lands natural habitat. Alice became alarmed at this and joined forces with local activists who opposed the expansion. They argued it was not environmentally conducive to move the plant so close to the dunes and would harm research data. To offer an alternative and a protesting one at that, The Prairie Club decided to garner public help for the establishment of a park. In the 1920s, the Indiana Dunes State Park was established. It seemed Alice and the support of others pulled off the impossible of preservation of the dunes. She did not enjoy it much for long. Because of her odd behavior as a recluse, her troubled relationship with her husband, and public taunting she became known as, “Diana of the Dunes.” She longed for quiet and privacy the dunes had afforded her but no longer found and planned to relocate to the Texas coast before her untimely death in 1925 at the age of 43.

Indiana Tourism

For many years a festival was celebrated in honor of Alice and others who worked hard to preserve the beauty and heritage of the dunes. But because of inadequate revenue and a lack of general public interest, the celebration was discontinued. Today anyone who wishes to visit the dunes may do so. It remains as a reminder of the need to preserve such nature so that many people in the future may enjoy quiet solitude to observe and reflect.

Bald Eagle: A Not so Favored History


I have watched the Norfolk eagle cam for over five years now but this year it is no more. Due to safety concerns of a neighboring airport, scientists were forced to remove the nest, where Dad eagle returned annually to give people around the world a glimpse into their mysterious world. Perhaps one day, another nest will be made somewhere nearby and another eagle father and patriarch will adorn us once more with the reality TV of a Bald eagle family.

The American Bald eagle is certainly a beautiful bird. It is a rarity to see one but those occurrences are ever improving due to various conservation programs committed to the safety and protection of them and their increasing numbers. Usually they are found near sources of water but sometimes they do travel inland whenever it suits them. The American Bald eagle, national symbol of the United States, was chosen by a congressional committee in 1782 as the representative national bird. It was created to represent the strength, power and resilience since at the time America was constantly under the threat of war on its borders.[1] Even thought majestic in its ability to mesmerize people who witness the bird in its habitat not everyone in history has had a favorable opinion of them.

Benjamin Franklin, early American inventor, originally proposed the idea of a Turkey to be the national bird of the United States, arguing that it the Bald eagle was, “a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly…” and John Audubon wrote of the Bald eagle, “ha[s] a ferocious, overbearing and tyrannical temper”.[2] But the keen eagle won out as the national symbol due to its own past of representing famous conquerors of the Greeks and Romans, both of whom were popularly studied by intellectualists at the time.[3]

In the twentieth century, author Neltje Blanchan wrote in Birds: That hunt and the Hunted, that even though the eagle represented American virtues of, “freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness…” was in fact also, “…a piratical parasite whenever it gets the chance”.[4]He pointed out the predatory way in which the Bald eagle hunted, killed and consumed its prey and that in actuality contradicted the American virtues.

In 1971, Bald eagles seen as a predatory nuisance of livestock were killed in Wyoming. This continued well into the decade of the 1970’s as ranchers took to vigilantism to take care of the nuisance problem.[5] It also gave way to myths about the Bald eagle preying upon medium sized domestic and wild animals. While it certainly has the power to do so it rarely does capture them since they do have ample supply of fish and small birds as a food source.

The American Bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States continues to have an effect on people who encounter them whether it is in truth or fiction. They are symbolized further by naming them after businesses, ideologies, morals, strength, power, etc,. They are researched by many as they continue to make their way from being considered an endangered species and provide a powerful knowledge base for environmental studies. They remain popular in online cams, conservation groups, avian rescues and the wild. They are indeed a fascinating bird to learn about and view in its habitat. Whether they actually do make the best representation of American virtues is subject to interpretation. Maybe that is the point or is it?

[1] Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, “Symbol of a Nation: The Bald Eagle in American Culture”, in Journal of American Culture (1990), v13, n.1. 63.

[2] Lawrence, “The Bald Eagle in American Culture”, 64.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lawrence, “The Bald Eagle in American Culture”, 66.

[5] Ibid.

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