For the next few posts, I am going to explore ghost stories in my home state: Indiana.
Besides its nearness to Chicago and its beauty, its spiritual power, there is between the Dune country and the city a more than sentimental bond — a family tie. To see the Dunes destroyed would be for Chicago the sacrilegious sin which is not forgiven. – Alice Mable Gray
At the top of Indiana and bounded by Lake Michigan is Indiana Dunes State Park. The rolling sands are a destination for Hoosiers during the summer, and also the home of a spirit called Diana.
In the early 20th century, a mysterious woman moved to the Dunes for solitude. She was seen skinny dipping in the waters of Lake Michigan. She was also known as an avid hunter. Locals called her “Diana” after the Roman goddess of the hunt and nature.
In more recent times, people have reported seeing a naked spectral woman running along the shore and disappearing into the water. They say it’s the ghost of Diana.
Diana was actually a woman named Alice Mable Gray, who was originally from Chicago. She was well-educated, cultured, and a feminist. She loved nature and searched for a simpler life. According to an article in the Chesterton Tribune:
Gray was a highly educated, soft spoken and cordial woman who had a deep love for the Indiana Dunes. At the age of 16, she enrolled in the University of Chicago, where she studied mathematics, astronomy, Greek and Latin and where she was named a Phi Beta Kappa honor society member.
Upon her graduation, she studied in Germany, at the University of Gottinger, where she was introduced to a movement called Wandervogel, or Birds of Passing. This movement was said to be a “walking commune,” as it involved young people giving up their material possessions to live off the land in nature.
She worked in Chicago after her return as a literary magazine editor, but was not satisfied with city life. In 1915, she moved to the Dunes for a different environment. The Dunes was a popular area for writers and artists, but Gray lived there all year round in an old hut (even during the bitter winters). Gray spent her days writing about the Dunes, giving children tours, and studying wildlife. Unfortunately, the media liked to interrupt her solitude and also take liberties with the subject matter.
Sadly, by contrast, several newspapermen writing about her took great liberty with their subject matter. They turned Gray into a mythical figure of sorts, referring to her as “Diana,” writing flowery accounts about her life in the dunes, and focusing more often than not on the fact she was seen — at least once — swimming nude. She was described in the varying accounts as a “bronze goddess,” a “water nymph”, and an “ideallyic gal” who often roamed the dunes naked.
According to the Chicago Tribune, she wrote an article for the newspaper about a day she
spent out in civilization. She watched a movie, took a stroll, and had a fancy meal in a restaurant. Gray, like a true naturalist, lamented the millions spent on the pier, yet the lack of funds to preserve the Dunes. She concluded the article by saying “silence and darkness out there are what I love. I must go back to them at once.”
She would appear in the news again, but for more controversial reasons. Around 1920, she became associated with a man named Paul Wilson, a man that was allegedly hot-tempered. No one knows for sure if they married, but they lived together. In 1922 they got “wrapped up in a Prohibition-era mysterious homicide” (Chicago Tribune). Wilson got in a brawl with another man and was shot in the foot. Gray somehow fractured her skull, an injury that sent her to the hospital.
Gray was out of the news until her death in 1925. She died of uremic poisoning. Some versions say she died in Wilson’s arms, and that she asked him to cremate her body and spread her ashes over Mount Tom. She allegedly said to Wilson, “I love the great silent darkness up there; the silence that lives in the noise of winds and water, the darkness that finds itself in the fleeting, eternal waves of those reaches of sand; the only reality of life for me is there.” The Chicago Tribune said it was too costly.
She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, IN.
- “Alice Mable ‘Diana of the Dunes’ Gray Wilson.” FindaGrave.
- Benzkofer, Stephen. “Quirkier by the Lake,” Chicago Tribune, 6 July 2016.
- “Diana of the Dunes.” Chicago Tribune, 2 July 2014. (really cool photos!)
- Urbanik, Vicki. “Alice Gray, Woman of Dunes.” Chesterton Tribune.