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Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger, Wednesday, 16 January, 1957
'Air Line' Doesn't Get Off Ground
(EDITOR'S NOTE--157th in Porter county historical series based on facts and legends as compiled by a local journalist.)
By THE STROLLER
In 1906 it seemed as though nothing was selling in the stock line except Electric Railway stocks.

As a result three promoters from Chicago organized its own Electric Railway line--which was to supply Valparaiso, the Harbor Belt region and Indianapolis.

Actually the V. H. B. & I. Ry. was organized solely on paper.

When it appeared that the initial prospectus was absurd--the project was dubbed by other promoters as "Visionary, Half Baked & Impossible Ry."--a new and better plan was adopted.

Bee - Line Planned
This time the prospectus called for a "Bee-Line" electric railway from Chicago to New York.

Rivers, forests, mountains and lakes were to be ignored. It was to be a straight "Air Line" from Chicago to New York, cutting the distance to 750 miles and the time to 10 hours. The selling slogan was "To New York in Ten Hours".

One Sunday in July, in 1906, there appeared in a Chicago paper a full page advertisement, announcing the sale of stock at $25 a share, said stock to be guaranteed redeemable at $100 a share by the time the construction reached a stated point.

The promoters had soaked their last dollar in that page ad, and sat in their office the next morning, wondering if they'd ever get their money back.

Mob Is Unruly
Hardly had they arrived at their offices--and they were early--when they were engulfed with a mob of investors, inexperienced clerks, merchants, janitors and factory workers who were there in unruly mobs trying to buy stock.

The crowds became so large that the office building management ordered the promoters to get out. They quickly rented better and larger quarters nearby, and sat back to watch the money roll in.

Soon the trio had nearly a million dollars in the bank, so it was decided to actually start construction on the project. Blake Mapledoram, a construction contractor just through with a Tennessee job, was employed.

Sixty mule teams, 42 scrapers, three locomotives, trains of dump cars, a steam shovel, a car barn and two electric interurban cars soon appeared on the ground. The right-of-way was obtained by donation or by shares in the company. Work started.

Excursion trains were run out from Chicago frequently to show the gullible public how work was progressing. In time a road was operating from LaPorte to Goodrum and branch lines were constructed to Valparaiso, and the Porter county string of lakes.

The main promoter, who thought he resembled William J. Bryan and assumed Bryan's mannerisms, the secondary promoter who edited and published the Air Line News as bait for a new school of suckers, and a third member of the original trio, who solicited right-of-way donations, soon found the whole fantastic enterprise growing beyond their management.

So they embraced a set of eight additional "officers" with high-sounding and very long titles, to take over some of the details. And still the money rolled in.

Then the promoters began to worry. How were they to let go, and get out with the money? The construction gang, comprising more than 700 men, was costing $300,000 a month, and that was using up money the promoters considered their own.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, that was about the time the new city of Gary was begun. So gradually the construction on the Air Line was halted, and the crews switched to Gary, where a new company called the Gary Interurban, was organized. Responsibility was smoothly shifted to that company.

Gary To Valparaiso
For a time under a new management which was formed with the hope of salvaging some of the loss a company was designed to pick up the bits and pieces of the wrecked Air Line and a local interurban service--was inaugurated from Gary to Valparaiso and the lakes. But even that was discontinued.

Today all the rails and ties have been torn up, and only a costly memory remains of the N. Y. Air Line, which, according to published reports, once had over 15,000 stock holders and had collected over two and a quarter million dollars of which only one million was ever accounted for but from which a goodly number of Porter county citizenry did for a short time collect a few dollars in wages.

None of the investors ever realized a penny.

The whole scheme was so cleverly involved with other especially created organizations that no case could be made against the original trio.

They are gone but not forgotten.


William Wallace did more harm to the cause of Porter County history than anyone else, and that's saying a lot. Wallace's columns were historial only in the sense that historical fiction is historical. In other words, they were not historical. What does "based on facts" mean? Lies are "based on facts". If you make something up yourself, does that make it a legend? No, it does not, however it is still popular among hack authors to claim that making up stories themselves creates instant folklore.

Before he killed his wife and committed suicide, Wallace, as the Stroller, wrote hundreds of columns which are still popular and have been reprinted periodically. What's wrong with that? Nothing -- if they had been written as and taken as fiction -- but they were promoted as history and are still taken as such by many. Whenever reading anything written about Porter County history since 1955, one has to consider whether the writer made use of some uncredited details from Stroller columns, believing them to be true. Wallace was president of the Historical Society of Porter County for awhile, though I am not sure when his reign was.

Wallace enjoyed spinning historically fictional tales. Why on earth didn't he and his publisher simply acknowledge the popular writings as what they are, fiction? Instead we now have people who claim that such-and-such a percentage of his material is true, and others who figure that that means the so-called Indian legends are fictional and all the rest of the stuff is true. Wrong. From doing research myself, I have never found a single Stroller column which is entirely accurate. I believe each Stroller column to be fictional. They are based on reality but what isn't? Science fiction, horror stories, ghost stories -- are all based on reality. But they are fiction. As are Stroller columns.

Other people do not see things that way. They imagine that Stroller tales must be true. Others do not care about what is true and what is not; all that is important is that the Stroller wrote colorful stories. That is fine, if fiction is seen as fiction. Unfortunately even some historical society members have gone on record as not caring about the difference between truth and fabrication, going so far as to state that fiction is always interesting, while nonfiction is always boring.

Where does that leave you, the reader? I am afraid that things are not simple for someone interested in Porter County history. You can not simply read stuff and believe it. Wallace always threw falsified details into his columns, even when finding the accurate details would not have been difficult. Why? I do not know. Perhaps as copyright traps? Whatever the reasons, nothing that the Stroller wrote can be believed without other confirmation, and that means primary sources backing up a detail, not simply finding a later writer who claims the same thing, a writer who may himself have gotten that detail from reading a Stroller column.

But the Stroller occasionally mentioned how much he enjoyed collecting oral histories and doing primary research, sometimes citing specific sources and sometimes not. What about all the research he did? Wallace lied. When he claimed to have made use of particular materials, he was lying. A perusal of those records or those books will show the reader that Wallace did not do the research that he claimed or at least he did not present the information accurately. I do not understand why the Stroller repeatedly cited materials which any reader could check himself to see that Wallace was lying, and I do not understand why local history buffs did not do just that and then denounce the Stroller columns as fictional distortions, but there it is. The Stroller columns which claimed unnamed sources or which were supposedly based on interviews of oldtimers are harder to check up on. I believe them all to be balogna.

Some people believe that others can't be all bad. When faced with proven lies of the Stroller, they figure that that makes the rest of the Stroller's claims more likely to be true. I however look at things the opposite way. When I catch people in lies, I do not believe that the rest of what they say is more likely to be true. I say that catching someone in a lie puts everything they say in question. I do not believe anything that the Stroller ever wrote, without independent confirmation.

So why have I posted Stroller columns up here on the Web? Well, they are already out there. They are already sitting in archives. They already have inspired other newspaper writers and local history speakers and local history writers. I figure that you, the Web surfer, may as well read the Stroller material, too, as long as you realize that it is not all true. So which details are true and which are not, in the above column? I have not yet done the necessary research. You shall have to do that yourself. Have a nice day.

Calumet Heritage Partnership

Calumet Region

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Created 23rd May, 2004.