Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Giant Lady's Leg Sundial

I told a friend that I would like to draw a map, from memory, of a town I lived in during ages around ages 8-11.  My parents owned a country grocery store there during those years.  The town, Roselawn, Indiana, was so small (population 302) that I had wandered through every foot of the town, including among many abandoned buildings as the town had once had grand hopes but had mostly fallen into ruin; it was occupied mostly by poor people, some with dirt floors, who were often carried on credit by my parents whose business depended more on farms.  The town was rich with "characters" and incidents that I have written about.  
I went on Google map, and, of course, in my virtual visit over sixty years later, I could not recognize the developed suburbs where that town used to be.  My friend Andrew Jefchak wrote a wonderful novel, OUT OF STEIGLITZ PARK, about his former hometown, Whiting, Indiana, that disappeared with an industrial explosion, yet how its absence persists in him with its own kind of presence.  As one of his characters says, "I think we are more than products of our environment or heredity or biological makeup, more even than the individual choices we make.  There is something else -- something like an ongoing geographical inner tattoo we carry forth, a constant subconscious reminder of place." 
I am realizing that with Roselawn, Indiana, it too might as well have disappeared in an industrial explosion as what I see by satellite photograph does not conform to the map in my memory.  Ironically, one thing continues -- the nudist camp.  In fact, Roselawn now has TWO nudist camps.  (Some irrational inner voice says, "It's because that county bordered on Illinois," where the borderline towns were full of bars.  One priest went to the bars to tend to his congregation.)  
As is true of my childhood in general, I experienced whatever there was to experience (the plus side of being ignored and neglected), and I have written about my visit to the nudist camp as a child, in the company of the niece of its owner, Aloyius Knapp.  That happened to be a summer when the camp was the site of a national convention of nudists and so I viewed the entire encyclopedia of naked bodies.  It is at the nudist camp owned by Aloyius Knapp that there is now a Giant Lady's Leg Sundial.  
Aloyius was one of three German-Americans who were prominent in our lives.  (I think of the evenings before electricity where we might eat dinner with them by the light of kerosene lamps, with those elaborate inlaid or carved wooden pieces brought with them from Germany, and the wind-up Victrola with opera records).  The other two brothers owned much of the farmland around Roselawn, and were among my parents'  major customers.  During World War I when one of the brothers remained in Germany and was drafted into the German Army, the other brother, in the U.S., when threatened with the draft, feared he would kill his own brother in war and so he shot off his trigger finger.  
Brother Aloysius, a Chicago lawyer, was more sophisticated and well educated, and his nudist camp drew a lot of other Chicago professionals who often came to my parents' Saturday night country dances, putting on clothes, but, to the appreciation of the men, the women's twirling skirts revealed that they did not bother with undergarments.  But there was nothing lascivious in Aloyius' dedication to nudism, and he said that sun exposure had saved his health.  He carried an elaborately carved cane that he claimed had belonged to Lincoln.  The United Nations was still not widely accepted so he named his dog UNO.  When his wife Violet died, he had the crumbling local cemetery restored, buried her there, and at her funeral had a plane fly over dropping bushes of violets.  Indiana can be that eccentric, and Roselawn, "back then," was the epitome of eccentricity, with characters and incidents that might make anyone become a writer in order to record them.  While Aloyius owned the nudist camp, you might hear a naked violinist on their little stage, or a lecture of some kind, but it was bound to decline after him -- from the Internet, 

Giant Lady's Leg Sundial
Field review by the editors.
Roselawn, Indiana
The Sun Aura Nudist Resort opened in 1933. Back then it was called Club Zoro and its founder was Alois Knapp, a Chicago lawyer, German Nacktkulturist, editor of Sunshine and Health magazine, and "the father of nudism in America."
The club eventually passed into the hands of Dale and Mary Drost. Their son, Dick, had big ideas: he renamed the place Naked City, made it the home of the Ms. Nude Teeny Bopper Contest and the "Erin Go Bra-less" Dance on St. Patrick's Day, and had built the giant lady's leg sundial, 63 feet long and properly positioned to tell time -- a useful feature for wristwatchless nudists.
Naked City closed in 1986 when Dick was run out of Indiana on child molestation charges, but the leg remains and so does the resort, now under new management. The circular main building with the mirror gold windows is a combination office-sauna-restaurant.

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