Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Gary, the Most American of All American Cities

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Gary, the Most American of All American Cities

Article excerpt

Gary, the Most American of All American Cities. By S. Paul O'Hara (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011). Pp. x, 195. Paper $16.95.

Created by the United States Steel Corporation on the southern shores of Lake Michigan in 1909, Gary, Indiana, has degenerated during the last century from a bustling company town to a sorrowful symbol of urban decay. Once known as "the magic city," Gary won international acclaim in its early years as both an innovative experiment in urban planning and a triumph of industrial capitalism. Unlike George Pullman's Utopian community south of Chicago, which failed to achieve its goals of financial success, elimination of labor conflict, and moral uplift, the founders of Gary sought only to minimize social conflict in the effort to maximize profit. For much of the twentieth century, generations of European immigrants toiled long hours in the stifling heat of the roaring steel mills, resided in modest homes in hardscrabble neighborhoods near the lakeside steel works, scrimped and saved to make better lives for their children, and took great pride in achieving a measure of respectability. A tough blue collar town, Gary tolerated gambling, prostitution, and other form of vice in a manner reminiscent of conditions in the nineteenth century American West. African American Richard Hatcher's victory in the 1967 mayoral race, which dislodged the corrupt political machine that had ruled the city for decades, reflected the rising electoral strength of blacks in a city with a dwindling white population. By the end of the twentieth century, the overwhelmingly black city reeled from the lethal combination of deindustrialization, population loss, crumbling infrastructure, and environmental despoliation. When a 1987 Money magazine survey of three-hundred U.S. cities singled out Flint, Michigan, as the worst place in America to live, a local defender of the affronted community indignantly responded: "Has Money been to Gary, Indiana? Let me tell you - Flint, Michigan, is no Gary!" (168)

S. Paul O'Hara's Gary, the Most American of All American Cities outlines the story of the city's creation and development during the last century but stops well short of being a comprehensive urban biography. …

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