Wingding 2017 Trip Day 1

Saturday August 26



345 miles 


Orville Redenbacher, King of Popcorn

63 Lafayette St., Valparaiso, IN
The statue sits beneath the gateway into Lincoln Park, on the south side of W. Lincolnway/Hwy 130 just east of Lafayette St.
Admission: Free

Orville Redenbacher statue.

Valparaiso, Indiana

Orville Redenbacher had already made a fortune in fertilizer when he settled in Valparaiso to build a popcorn empire. He tested thousands of hybrids before perfecting "gourmet popping corn" -- an upscale version of a formally humble food -- and then became a celebrity by pitching it on TV commercials. A lot of folks didn't believe that he was real, but he was.

Orville died in 1995, in the whirlpool tub of his Colorado condo, not in the leafy biome of a Valparaiso corn field. The city never forgot him, and in 2012 it commissioned artist Lou Cella to create a bronze, life-size Orville with his familiar bow tie, wavy hair, toothy grin, and thick glasses. The statue was placed at the entrance to the city's downtown park, and sits on its own bronze bench to encourage visitors to pose for photos -- a friendly approach also used in statues of America's other living food icon, Colonel Sanders.

Paradoxically, Orville's folksy image is owned by corporate giant ConAgra Foods, which forbade Valparaiso from including any references to popcorn in the statue.


John Dillinger Museum

1 Courthouse Square, Crown Point, IN
In the old courthouse in the town square. Entrance on the north side of the building.
Tu-Su 10-5 (Call to verify)
Admission Adults $4.


Crown Point, Indiana

In America, Bonnie and Clyde are the alpha dogs of the pop celebrity crime pack. But nipping at their heels is John Dillinger, and in Indiana he will always be Public Enemy No. 1, a home-state boy gone bad.

Fry guy: Bruno Hauptmann in the electric chair.
Fry guy: Bruno Hauptmann in the electric chair.

The John Dillinger Museum is the legacy of the late Joe Pinkston, a maverick who collected more Dillinger relics than anyone. In the 1970s he opened the museum in his Indiana hometown, and spent the rest of his life defending it against those who failed to appreciate his vision.

Times sure have changed. The museum is now officially sanctioned and promoted by Indiana's tourism trendsetters. In 2015 it re-opened in an atmospheric new setting in the basement of Lake County's old courthouse, only a block from the "escape-proof" jail that Dillinger escaped from on March 3, 1934 -- much to Indiana's embarrassment at the time.

"It took me 21 years to get it here," said a proud Speros Batistatos, president of the South Shore CVA. "This is where the museum belongs, and always has belonged. It's home."

(Speros, a maverick himself, has helped pave the way for Indiana's statues of Flick's Lick and Orville Redenbacher).

Jail cell.
Replica of Dillinger's cell and bucket.

The brick-vaulted basement of the museum is an appropriately dungeon-like setting, complete with barred windows (It was originally the city morgue). It opens with a condemned man strapped into an electric chair -- not John Dillinger, who never made it that far, but Bruno Hauptmann, the convicted Lindbergh baby-killer!

Next, it's a chronological walk along "the twisted road that led to Dillinger's death," according to an introductory sign. Displays include his young-man's Indiana baseball shoes, but turn a corner and you're standing face-to-face with wax dummies of the Dillinger gang robbing an Indianapolis bank. Then you're invited to sit in a jail cell just like the one where Dillinger spent nine years of his short life. "The bucket was his bathroom," reads one sign (There's a bucket on the floor as a visual aid). "Can you imagine living like this that long?"

Fake gun Dillinger used to bust out of jail just a block away from the Dillinger Museum.
Fake gun carved and used by Dillinger to bust out of jail.

Joe Pinkston believed that Dillinger was in cahoots with banks he robbed, and was sacrificed after they had collected their insurance money. The new museum concedes in its signage that Dillinger was "generally courteous" and "had no trouble attracting girlfriends," but has replaced Joe's conspiracy theories with exhibits that juxtapose Good (law enforcement) vs. Evil (lawbreakers). Along the way you can ponder artifacts such as the lucky rabbit's foot that Dillinger gave away six months before he was killed, and a replica of the crude wooden gun that he used to bluff his way out of the Crown Point jail down the street.

The museum ends with its best material. The Death Alley display reveals a face-down wax dummy Dillinger corpse at the touch of a button -- which, or course, you push after being warned that what you're about to see may shock you. Similarly, a twist of the "City Morgue" door handle illuminates the outlaw's bloody body on its examination slab.

"Warning: May be too frighting" is written on the morgue door.

Dillinger's death mask is displayed (a sign notes that so many death masks were made that Dillinger's dead face was damaged) along with his wicker corpse basket and his original tombstone, removed from his grave after too many people had chipped off pieces for souvenirs.

One of Joe Pinkston's most prized exhibits, Dillinger's death pants, have their own showcase in the museum, although their visible blood stains have faded over the years.

The final display in the museum is a big blow-up of J. Edgar Hoover's face and this message: "Having now seen the twisted tale of John Dillinger's life, would you agree that crime doesn't pay?"

Obsessive personal collections such as Joe Pinkston's are usually sold piecemeal or thrown away after their owners die. Fortunately, his Dillinger Museum, although tempered in approach, has remained essentially intact. It enlightens new generations of True Crime fans in its now-respectable afterlife.


Giant Lady's Leg Sundial

Sundial Leg.

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.

The guy who paints the leg told us that Sun Aura is a "clothing optional" camp -- in other words, you don't have to get nude to take a picture of the big lady's leg. But for those who do choose to get into the spirit of things, a helpful sign on the exit road reads, "Stop. You Must Be Dressed Beyond This Point."

Giant Lady's Leg Sundial

Sun Aura Nudist Resort

3449 E. State Rd 10, Roselawn, IN
Sun Aura Nudist Resort. East of Lake Village. I-65 exit 230, then west on Hwy 10 for three miles. The nudist camp is on the left, near a pale yellow mailbox and sign.