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Leaving a Legacy

*The following is a transcript of Season 1, Episode 1 of the Ghost and Grub Podcast.


Beyond the skyscrapers of Chicago and the steel mills of Gary lies the small town of Chesterton, Indiana. Located just five minutes from the shores of Lake Michigan, it’s the perfect kind of town to grab a bite to eat after a day of relaxing along the lakeshore or hiking the Dunes.


In the latter half of the 1800s, Chesterton grew quickly. But its growth slowed by the 20th century, becoming a quiet Midwest town against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline. Nevertheless, people continued to settle down in the area to build a legacy for the next generation.


Today, Chesterton’s popular restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and wineries fill the streets where the area’s first settlers spent their time and energy. And, while some left a legacy years after they’ve lived, others refuse to be forgotten by lingering in the shadows even after death.


Running Vines Winery

(Source: Ghost and Grub©)


History

Walking through Chesterton today, there’s little to remind you of what the area was like nearly two hundred years ago. In 1830, Jesse Morgan, his brothers, and William Thomas set out with their families from Ohio to seek out their own fortune in Indiana. At the time, Indiana promised opportunities for people trying to escape the crowded East Coast.


As the Morgan and Thomas families moved across Indiana, they began hearing rumors that the Pottowattomie tribe were ready to defend their land just miles from where they had stopped. This made Jesse Morgan especially concerned, and so Morgan separated from the rest of the caravan and headed north, his brothers went south, and William Thomas, trusting that the rumors about the Pottowattomie were false, continued to move west. Thomas’s instincts were right, and his family was able to peacefully plant their roots in the area that is now known as Chesterton.


At one point, records show Chesterton was called Thomas Mill, and it’s no surprise since the Thomas family is often credited for helping shape the town’s beginnings. The Thomas farm, then owned by William Thomas II, quickly became the center of town. The Thomas’s owned and operated a sawmill and a general store. William Thomas II also donated land and lumber to create the town’s first school in 1840. Although the Thomas’s contributed so much to Chesterton’s roots, it’s their general store that has left a rather unique and oftentimes mysterious legacy.


Today, Running Vines Winery, located at 101 Broadway, sits at the corner of Broadway and Calumet in Chesterton. Housed in a striking, v-shaped building, Running Vines is home to award-winning table wines and savory small plates. The winery’s seasonal flavors and themed, in-house events offer a unique experience with each visit. 101 Broadway’s architecture stands out among the flat rooftops that line the downtown district. Rebuilt in 1891 and remodeled in 1908, the original structure was built by William Thomas II.


Although there is a lot to be celebrated with their contributions to early Chesterton, there was also great loss within the Thomas family. William Thomas II and his wife Anne had 13 children; however, all but two lived past childhood: Elias and his sister Ellena.


William Thomas II and Anne both tragically died in 1865, leaving Elias and Ellena orphans. The two children were sent to live with a guardian in neighboring Valparaiso. Years later, Elias returned to Chesterton as a businessman and two-term county sheriff, leasing his father’s building at 101 Broadway to a general store, harness shop, and doctor’s office.


It would seem that Elias’s future was bright, but it was not long before he would incur a string of unpaid debts. Losing both of his children, one of them to a drowning in nearby Flint Lake, Elias’s marriage also ended in tragedy, with his wife filing for divorce. However, it was 101 Broadway that would forever seal Elias’s fate and bring him financial reckoning.


Before 1905, buildings across the nation were not built to code, and wooden structures were quick to catch fire, leaving nothing but ashes behind. Buildings in Chesterton were no exception, and 101 Broadway succumbed to not one or two, but three fires within 20 years. After the first fire in 1888, Elias rebuilt 101 Broadway only to endure yet another fire in 1902. Elias did not have insurance on the property at the time, causing painful financial problems for the once successful businessman. In 1905, Myron and Harry Smith, who had been renting the main floor of 101 Broadway for their general store, purchased the building from Elias outright. The building suffered a third fire in 1908, severely damaging the interior but not destroying it.


Not much is known about Elias Thomas after selling the building to the Smiths. It is said he worked as a mail carrier and later as Town Assessor before his death in 1927. A newspaper article from 1908 also suggests Elias may have been renting a room upstairs at 101 Broadway from the Smiths during the third fire. According to a newspaper article, “Elias Thomas was also sleeping in the building when the flames broke out, and it was not until friends called him that he knew of the presence of flames.”


101 Broadway was known throughout town as the Smith and Sons General Store until it was put up for sale in 1973. Before Running Vines moved in, it housed several other businesses, including a bookstore and antique mall. While 101 Broadway has often been called the “Crown Jewel'' of Chesterton’s downtown area, it quickly became better known to some as a hotspot for the paranormal.


Ghostly Encounters

For decades, former shop owners and tenants of 101 Broadway have reported seeing full-body apparitions and furniture moving by itself. One tenant would regularly hear the bell at the front door jingle to indicate someone had walked in, only to find no one had entered the building. Others have reported seeing the spirits of an elderly couple, as well as a young girl with black hair, wearing a long, white gown. Some claim a young girl had died in the building; although, the only human tragedy on record is that of four boys who fell through to the basement when the building’s staircase collapsed in 1908. It’s unknown if any of the boys died during the incident, but the stories of 101 Broadway carry on, and its ghosts are far from finished haunting it.


One day, Running Vines owner Nicki was busy prepping her winery to open in the iconic Chesterton location. She and a co-worker were busy painting the walls when her coworker noticed that something had fallen from the ceiling and landed in Nicki’s hair. He reached over to Nicki, and to his surprise, found a locket-sized photo. The two were baffled, as Nicki was on a ladder where there was nothing above except for the ceiling. Whatsmore, the man in the photo posed a striking resemblance to none other than Elias Thomas.


While there are a number of ghost stories surrounding 101 Broadway, the one that’s most frequently told is that of a woman seen on the grand staircase. She is said to be dressed in late 19th century clothing and wears a locket around her neck. Does the photo Nicki found belong to her? No one knows for sure, but many have a hunch the woman might be searching for her lost locket photo.


What to Order

When you visit Running Vines, you’ll see the small photo of who is believed to be Elias Thomas displayed behind the bar, watching over the building his father first built and who he, himself spent most of his adult life attached to. Perhaps Thomas’s legacy lies not in the personal and financial troubles he endured while alive. Instead, he and his family built a legacy that even in death keeps 101 Broadway’s spirit alive in those who joyfully meet in its welcoming space, sharing good food, great wine, and friendly conversation.


While there, be sure to order a glass of their award-winning Half Marathon with one of their gourmet flatbreads. My favorites are the Pear & Prosciutto and Buffalo Chicken. Let Nicki know Ghost and Grub sent you, and be sure to say “hello” to the ghosts for me.


Local Folklore: Diana of the Dunes


Often called America’s Third Coast, the National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes are only minutes from Chesterson. The Dunes attract millions of visitors every year, making it the single most-visited attraction in Indiana. The popularity of the Dunes is nothing new, and it's one woman’s love of its rustic, unspoiled shores that have forever left a mark on the area, turning truth into legend.


Alice Grey was a young woman when she enrolled at the University of Chicago at the age of 16 in the late 1800s. After graduating with honors, Alice continued her studies in Germany, and it was there that she learned about a movement called Birds of Passing which encouraged giving up one’s material possessions and living off the land.


After her studies in Germany, Alice returned to Chicago where it’s said she worked as an editor for an astronomy magazine. However, in 1915, Alice Grey left her life in Chicago and made a new life on the shores of the Indiana Dunes. She was quoted once as saying, “I wanted to live my own life -- a free life.”


Alice found shelter in an abandoned shack that she affectionately named “Driftwood” and lived a simple life along the sandy hills and breezy shoreline. It is said she spent most of her days reading, studying wildlife, and giving children tours of the Dunes.


Alice’s unconventional lifestyle along the shores of the Indiana Dunes fascinated many, and despite her peaceful existence, wild stories about Alice quickly surfaced. Local fishermen had reported seeing Alice swimming nude in the Lake, causing many to refer to her as the Nymph of the Dunes. However, it wasn’t until a local reporter compared Alice to the mythical goddess hunter Diana that her life became a piece of American folklore. The name stuck, and the story of Diana of the Dunes was born.


Sadly, Alice died in 1925 from complications related to uremic poisoning, and while she was already a legend in life, her fame grew even stronger in death.


For decades, the area had hosted a Diana of the Dunes festival each year as an honor to Alice and her love of the Indiana Dunes. Others over the years have studied and written about Alice and her unconventional lifestyle, but it’s the countless sightings of Alice’s ghost over the past century that have kept her story alive. Most people report seeing a lady in white walking along the shoreline, while others have caught a glimpse of her ghost swimming in Lake Michigan.


In 2021, the Indiana Dunes dedicated a hiking trail to Alice. Known as Diana’s Dare, the trail is designed to celebrate Alice’s appreciation and adoration of the Dunes.


While it’s uncertain if Alice’s spirit still lingers along the Indiana Dunes, the stories surrounding Alice are a testament to the impact she has had on the area and its people. And, who knows? While partaking in Diana’s Dare, you, too, might catch a glimpse of Alice’s ghost strolling along the shores of Lake Michigan.


Val's Famous Pizza & Grinders

(Source: Instagram)


History

Although the legacies of the Thomas family and Alice Grey may live on for many more years to come, others around Chesterton have lived and died without any prominent notoriety. Despite being forgotten, they refuse to be silenced and linger in the spaces they loved the most.


Val’s Pizza sits just blocks away from Running Vines on 11th street. It is by far the best place in town to grab delicious pizza in a casual space that is both welcoming and cozy. Owner Kevin has watched Val’s grow over time since 2002, and while the building recently underwent a fresh remodel, some of its past refuses to change, including the spirit who seems to haunt it.


The building that houses Val’s Pizza began as a salon in the 1950s until it was sold in 1971 and turned into the Hideaway Lounge. Despite its reputation as a lively, brazen place, the Hideaway Lounge had a welcoming atmosphere for locals looking to get together with friends over a few drinks.


Charles Wallin, or “Dynie” as most referred to him, was a former boxer who owned the Hideaway for only a short time before succumbing to brain cancer in February of 1975. Dynie was the current owner of the Hideaway Lounge when he passed, and to this day, many believe he never left.


Ghostly Encounters

Val’s dining room had been closed for the day. Kevin and a coworker sat alone in the kitchen, waiting for some pizzas to come out of the oven. The kitchen was quiet, as both men sat in chairs, tired from the long day. Just then, Kevin heard what could only be described as a man clearing his throat. The sound was so loud that Kevin looked up at his coworker, only to find the coworker staring right back at him. Curiosity quickly turned into shock as both men realized neither of them had made the sound.


It seems the spirit at Val’s doesn’t just want to be recognized. It also wants to lend a hand. One night, a coworker went down to the basement to grab a case of beer. As he was ascending the stairs, he lost his center of gravity and began falling backwards but was quickly caught by someone from behind him. As the man found his balance again, he turned to thank the person only to find no one was there.


Ask any employee at Val’s, and they most likely have a story about their resident ghost. In fact, the activity has remained so steady, that Kevin has invited local paranormal investigators to explore the building, and what one team revealed may have confirmed who is behind the ghostly activity.


While reviewing their evidence after investigating Val’s, a paranormal team discovered something on one of their recording devices. When asked its name, a disembodied voice on the recording could be heard saying, “Die.” At first, the response unnerved Kevin, thinking the word “die” referred to some impending doom. However, fear turned to assurance, as he quickly realized and was convinced that the spirit was not saying, “die,” but had just revealed his name: Diney.


Although no one may ever really know if Diney Wallin returned after death to be the caretaker of his once popular lounge, one thing’s for sure. The spirit who lingers at Val’s has chosen to remain among the living, watching over the building and those who inhabit it.


What to Order

When you visit Val’s, I recommend the Chesterton Fire pizza. Super spicy and packed with flavor, it’s the perfect way to have your own literal taste of Chesterton and its history. And, stay for some of their famous peanut butter puck. You won’t regret it.


Tell Us Your Story

If you’ve been to any of the locations mentioned in this and other episodes, we’d love to hear from you! Simply send us a note at hello@ghostandgrub.com. Your story could be featured in an upcoming episode.