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Dyer author highlights local hidden gems in Secret Northwest Indiana book

By Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (September 9, 2022) Joseph Pete has spent his entire life in Northwest Indiana, often making his way over the border to shop and dine in Lansing. He’s gotten to know much about the area in the past decade of writing for the Times of Northwest Indiana — getting an in-depth look into some of the well-known places and a peek inside some of the more hidden gems that may not be as familiar to residents of the region. Many of those lesser-known spots are included in the pages of his latest book, Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Absurd which was released in May by Reedy Press.

Covering the region

A native of Highland, Pete attended Andrean High School in Merrillville and earned his degree from Indiana University-Bloomington after serving a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Army, including a deployment to Iraq, where he received a Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

He began working at the Times of Northwest Indiana nearly a decade ago, covering Calumet Region stories in both Indiana and Illinois.

“I serve as a business reporter, arts and feature writer and the Business Ins and Outs columnist in the Sunday paper,” said Pete.

Over the course of his career, he has won numerous journalism awards, including Peter Lisagor Awards for Journalism in Illinois and Northwest Indiana and awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Inland Press Association, the Chicago Journalists Association, and the Hoosier State Press Association.

Hidden gems
Joseph Pete’s book draws attention to local hidden gems.

Secret Northwest Indiana is Pete’s third book. It delves into the off-the-beaten path locations and seldom told stories of people and places that have contributed to the region and made it what it is today.

“I have also written Lost Hammond, Indiana by The History Press and 100 Things to Do in Gary and Northwest Indiana Before You Die by Reedy Press. I contributed an essay to Belt Publishing’s The Gary Anthology, Indiana at 200: “A Celebration of the Hoosier State” and other books, including the forthcoming Jacked: An Anthology of Crime Fiction. I love writing. I keep busy,” said Pete.

The must-see gems

According to Pete there are so many hidden gems in the region that one book wasn’t enough to cover them all. What you’ll find in this book is even more of what he wrote about in 100 Things to Do in Gary and Northwest Indiana Before You Die — things that everyone living in the area needs to experience and stories that everyone should hear.

“One of the main points I stress is that the Indiana Dunes National Park is much vaster and more varied than many people realize. As a kid, we went to the dunes a lot, both as a family and on school field trips. But we mainly visited popular beaches like West Beach or those at the Indiana Dunes State Park, which is often confused with the National Park, even by people with Ph.D.’s. It’s a sprawling 15,000-acre park that also includes historic sites like the Century of Progress Homes that were ferried across Lake Michigan to a bluff on Beverly Shores after the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and the Bailly Homestead, where some of the region’s first settlers planted roots by the Little Calumet River. It’s filled with many winding and wondrous trails like the Great Marsh Trail, the Tolleston Dunes Trail, and the Miller Woods, places with incredible biodiversity where one can see cacti by pine trees,” Pete explained.

“I visited the Pinhook Bog in the Indiana Dunes National Park a few times while researching the book and never saw another person there. I never saw another car in the parking lot. It’s a wondrous hike through an ancient terrain forged by glaciers, part of which can only be seen on a guided tour with Park Rangers. The dunes are just overflowing with hidden gems people often overlook,” Pete said. “I’d also encourage people to check out the Gibson Woods in Hessville in the spring when bright yellow flowers blossom in the reflective water, the Paul Henry’s Art Gallery in Hammond that used to be a 19th-century hardware store, or the sculpture park at Purdue University Northwest in Westville where a stroll around the grounds unveils wonder after wonder.”

Sharing the stories

Not only does Pete’s latest book mention some underrated places to see, it also includes a plethora of interesting stories that readers may never have heard before.

“My first book was a history book. My second book was a travelogue. This book is a combination of the two. It explores region history, like the Kingbury Ordinance Plant that sprung up to supply the front lines during World War II, the Nike missile bases that defended Chicago and the steel mills during the Cold War, and a south suburban German POW camp where the prisoners picked onions. It looks at many historical figures who shaped the region, including the bohemian preservationist Diana of the Dunes, the father of ecology Henry Chandler Cowles, the grandfather of aviation Octave Chanute, the gangster John Dillinger, the serial killer Belle Gunness, the dunes landscape painter Frank Dudley and the flamboyant, larger-than-life tattoo artist Roy Boy Cooper,” said Pete. “It ties history to places one can visit today to learn more. It explores many off-the-beaten path locales like shipwrecks, the sites of Lake Michigan submarine experiments, an early electric car prototype that was driven around the streets of LaPorte and so on.”

In the book readers will also find sites in and around Lansing, including the Historic Ford Hangar, Lan-Oaks Lanes where the independent movie “When Jeff Tried to Save the World” starring Jon Heder was filmed, and the Calumet City Smiley Face water towers.

“In keeping with its title and subtitle, the book focuses on the weird and offbeat, including a sand dune that’s eating everything in its path, a ghost town that was meant to rival Chicago and Christmas-caroling porta-potties. It’s filled with tips such as places to see Great Blue Herons, striking public art, and rare carnivorous plants,” said Pete. “I grew up in the region. I’ve covered the region for nearly a decade. But I have never learned more about the region than when researching and writing this book. I find region history to be fascinating and hope others do too.”

Pete and his wife, Meridith, welcomed their first child, a daughter named Harper last month. You can purchase Pete’s books at some retail stores as well as online at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, target.com and walmart.com.

Meet Pete in Michigan City

A presentation and book signing is scheduled for Saturday, September 10 at the Michigan City Public Library, 100 E. 4th Street, Michigan City, Indiana.

Joseph Pete’s favorite places in the Calumet Region are listed below:

  • The Indiana Dunes
  • South Shore Arts Gallery
  • Wolf Lake
  • The Little Calumet River
  • Marquette Park
  • The entire Miller neighborhood
  • Michigan City Uptown Arts District
  • Downtown Griffith
  • Grindhouse Cafe
  • Purdue University Northwest sculpture park in Westville
  • Brauer Museum of art
  • Lubeznik Center for the Arts
  • LaPorte County Historical Society Museum
  • Gabis Arboretum
  • Cook County Forest Preserves
  • Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop
  • Calumet Fisheries
  • Union Street Gallery
  • Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University
Carrie Steinweg
Carrie Steinweg
Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, photographer, author, and food and travel blogger who has lived in Lansing for 27 years. She most enjoys writing about food, people, history, and baseball. Her favorite Lansing Journal articles that she has written are: "Lan Oak Lanes attracts film crew," "Why Millennials are choosing Lansing," "Curtis Granderson returns home to give back," "The Cubs, the World Series, fandom, and family," and "Lansing's One Trick Pony Brewery: a craft beer oasis."