Chesterton Tribune

Diana of the Dunes author tells search for facts behind the folklore

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When Janet Zenke Edwards first heard about Chesterton’s Diana of the Dunes Festival she asked who was Diana of the Dunes and why was there a festival named for her. There were eight people sitting around a campfire and she got eight different answers. Diana was a witch, a hermit, a ghost, an educated woman or maybe never existed. And, by the way, her name was really Alice Mabel Gray.

Thus began a ten year search for the true story of Alice Gray which resulted in the book Diana of the Dunes, The True Story of Alice Gray which was published earlier this year by the History Press.

Edwards shared the story of her research with the Duneland Historical Society at the Library Service Center Thursday, November 18. Her home is in Saint Louis but she spent summers at Porter Beach where her grandparents purchased two cottages in the 1950s.

She became fascinated with Alice’s story and started out to write an article and then perhaps more than one article and finally a book. She gave credit to many people who have assisted her beginning with her mother, a genealogist, who, among other things, found military pension records for Alice Gray’s father Ambrose Gray.

Edwards did research at the Westchester Township History Museum and told of late night email exchanges with Museum Researcher Eva Hopkins as bits and pieces of information came to light.

City directories, Ancestry.com, oral histories, old newspapers, trips to find family homes and research in several libraries gave her a glimpse of the real Alice. She was able to talk to the late Irene Nelson who remembered Alice.

Late in her research Edwards found that Alice had allowed her diaries to be published in the Chicago Herald and Examiner in 1918. Manuscripts written by Alice have not surfaced although it is known that she was a writer.

Alice’s great-niece Marion LaRocco of Michigan City who shared family stories with Edwards was a special guest at the meeting.

The author is continuing to learn facts about Diana of the Dunes and hopes more pictures will be found.

The book is available at the Westchester Township History Museum Store.

The Duneland historical society does not meet in December or January.

Election of officers for 2011 took place before the program. They are president, Joan Costello; vice president, Eva Hopkins; vice president, Jane Walsh-Brown; secretary, Dorothy Meyers; treasurer, Marilyn Cook; and directors Betty Canright, Nancy Hokanson, Ken Keller, Audrey Lipinski, Bill Meyer, Rita Newman, Nancy Vaillancourt, and Lynn Welsh.

November 19, 2010