Morris: ‘Indiana Beach,’ R.I.P.
by Leo Morris
Sorry, Hoosier tourists – you’ve just been given one more reason to cross a state line in search of that perfect day trip.
Indiana Beach, the amusement park operated on the shores of Lake Shafer in White County for nearly 100 years, has been shut down by its corporate owners in California.
When all the chin-scratching trend watchers speculate on reasons for the closing, a couple will probably stand out.
One is the indifference (or greed, some would say) of big business. The original, local owner sold the place to a New York outfit that apparently didn’t do much before selling it to the Californians, who made some improvements but could still only eke “marginal profits” out of the place.
The other is the evolving nature of entertainment. People have so many ways to amuse themselves at home these days that the idea of fighting traffic and crowds just to stand in line somewhere isn’t quite as attractive as it once was.
Both of those theories are quite reasonable, and I have reasons to appreciate each of them
I spent most of my career at a newspaper that succumbed to the local-to-corporate disassembly line. Yes, it likely would have fallen to the digital revolution in any case, but I can’t help but feel it ended up on blocks in the derelict front yard of old media sooner than it had to.
And heaven knows I spend enough time at my keyboard doing things that I once did by venturing “outside” (you remember it, I’m sure). I won’t say my Amazon shopping killed Sears and L.S. Ayres, but you can probably blame me and my ilk for Kmart.
But, being one of those chin-scratching trend watchers myself, I naturally have to look for the bigger picture.
Which, I think, is this: As humans are fragile and life is brief, so are the expressions of our collective enterprise impermanent. We resist that fact with every fiber of our being, but it is true nonetheless.
Indiana Beach is but one of a list of disappearing Hoosier attractions. The most recent are the auctioning off of Amish Acres in northeast Indiana and the entire town of Story being put up for sale. But the list is long – the 100 Center shopping destination in Mishawaka, a Ferris wheel and roller coaster on the beach in Michigan City. Ogden Dunes had a 200-foot ski jump and Porter had a planetarium.
We can all add our own personal losses to the list of places generally missed.
Mine would include the restaurant where my family gathered in monthly, merry celebrations, lost to the last big recession; and my high school, sacrificed to the imperatives of racially balanced education. Oh, and of course, I remember a thriving urban center before malls sucked the life out of it. Who in Indiana doesn’t remember a downtown that “isn’t what it used to be”?
When we lament those losses – and we all do, each and every one of us – we are really yearning for the return of a past we can never recapture.
The stories about Indiana Beach quote family after family talking about visits to the park being a tradition, sometimes going back generations, parents taking the children to the attractions their parents took them to. That history is what families feel slipping away – the amusement park is just a symbol of it.
Rescuing Indiana Beach or Amish Acres, which some entrepreneurs are hoping for, won’t bring the nuclear family back into focus. Reviving my favorite restaurant won’t reunite my family members now scattered in multiple cities in different states.
When I drive by my high school, which has a second life as an administrative center, I can feel the ghosts of my past. But those students in the yearbook I drag out occasionally – frozen in eternal youth – are still together only in my memory. We have all moved on.
That is what people do; we move on. And those who come after us have their own ideas about what to do with what we left behind.
That’s what I want to tell city leaders desperately trying to recapture downtown’s glory. People concentrated there for a reason, and they dispersed for a reason, too. Let the city move on. Let it grow and change and create new memories for the next generation.
That’s what I want to tell them. But it would be pointless. They won’t listen. They can’t.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.