When people first settled in Gary in Indiana, they did not know that they would be settling into a town that would soon be dubbed America’s murder capital and American’s most miserable city.
Currently known as the most miserable city in the States and very likely in much of the world, the ex-industrial town of Gary in Indiana leaves a lot to be desired. Its streets are devoid of color, and much of its population moved out of the city, leaving it bare.
Once an industry capital, this proud-standing city has been reduced to nothing more than grizzled streets under grey skies and pollution. It is dubbed the most miserable city in America. Its buildings are crumbling down, and its culture is barely existent. That it once was a city bustling with people is now very hard to imagine.
Located in Lake County in the extreme northwest of Indiana, the city is now a bare skeleton of what once was an industrial giant. Founded in 1906 on the underdeveloped southern shore of Lake Michigan, near Chicago, Gary was one of the creations of the U.S. Steel Corporation. This conglomerate had been searching for a cheap and convenient site for a massive new steel production center.
The city was named after Elbert H. Gary, industrialist and chairman of the board of U.S. Steel Corporation. As the company expected many workers to arrive when the steelworks opened, they laid out a city plan, built a variety of housing complexes, and named it the City of the Century. It might have been a Magic City when it was first built, but today, Gary is only a faint echo of its glory.
The History Of The Most Miserable City In America
Gary was founded in 1906, and at its creation, dubbed The City of the Century. It did a lot to merit this moniker – both when it was at its best and now when it is at its worst.
While the city is not wholly abandoned today, it is estimated that in 2014, approximately 78.000 people lived there. At its peak, Gary in Indiana had over 178.000 residents. This was back in the 1960s when the city was a thriving industrial center. This drop has led to quite a considerable level of economic devastation. It left thousands of homes and buildings to decay.
However, the city of Gary in Indiana was glorious once. The city became America’s largest company town in 1906. It was founded by U.S. Steel and named after one of its board members. The U.S. Steel worked covertly to purchase almost 10.000 acres of swampland on the south shores of Lake Michigan to build their new steelworks factory.
The construction began immediately. The sprawling Gary Works enticed workers from across the country with the promise of jobs and accommodations in the city that was rising around the factory. The factory of U.S. Steel was state of the art when it was first constructed. The decades that followed the founding of Gary were dubbed its glory days. They were indeed prosperous.
Unfortunately, like any factory-built and owned town, Gary, Indiana, soon turned rife with corruption and economic disparity. The city attracted many European immigrants and Black people fleeing the Jim Crow laws in the south. They were flocking to the town and causing disturbance to Indiana’s Ku Klux Klan members.
This caused Gary to become was one of the most segregated cities in the United States by the 1950s. The city was becoming known for the double standards for its citizens. This led to strikes and protests. At the same time, overseas competition in the steel industry brought about layoffs that rocked the town’s economy. In turn, the crime rate started to rise.
This would lead to Gary’s unfortunate decline. The less money the city had, the less desirable it was to those with the money, and it started the exodus of its residents.
From Glory To The The Most Miserable City In America
Gary was founded in 1906 as an adjunct of United States Steel Corporation’s new manufacturing complex. The site of the city was chosen as it laid on water midway between the iron ore beds and coal region. With such favorable resources choosing the site was an easy decision.
When large areas were drained and dunes removed, with the river rerouted, Steelworks were built along the lakeshore. The city of Gary in Indiana state was then built to the south. A U.S. Steel subsidiary, The Gary Land Company, laid out its part of the town and constructed streets and sidewalks, sewage systems, waterworks, and electric plants.
On July 23, 1908, the first ore boat arrived at the most miserable city in America, and steel production officially began. At the time, Gary had diversified manufacturing. It produced petroleum products, chemicals, fabricated metal, and machinery. Eventually, it turned into a one-industry city and producing steel.
During the period of World War I, looking for jobs and accommodation, a large number of African Americans moved to work in Gary, Indiana. By the 1930s, they constituted one-sixth of Gary’s population. The next great war drew in many more, and in 1967, Gary, Indiana, got its first African American mayor. Gary in Indiana was the scene of development and education in the early 20th century.
William Wirth established a work-study-play public school that was popularly known as a platoon school. It was designed to attract underprivileged children.
The city of Gary soon became home to a rapidly growing population of other immigrants from Eastern Europe and Mexico. This led the population of Gary, Indiana, to rise to 55.000 in the 1920s and over 100.000 in the 1930s. Immigrants constituted 45% of the city’s population, and people of color comprised 18%.
Throughout the first 50 years of the city, Gary served as a testing ground for the assimilation of European immigrants. On the opposite side, blacks and Mexicans were marginalized and isolated behind mighty walls of discrimination, segregation, and racism.
The opening of many workplaces within the Steelworks lead Gary to grow substantially in the 1920s. U.S. Steel transformed the city physically and planned its future growth thoroughly. In the 1920s, the city’s economic prosperity remained dependent on one industry – its steelworks.
During World War II, the economic demands revived the steel industry and pulled Gary out of the Depression. The city was prosperous once again during wartime. However, when peace was made, prosperity shattered. After the 1940s, segregation and strife, labor problems in the steel factory, and various other troubles would lead to the dark age of Gary.
How Did The Fortunes Turn For This Industrial Town?
The decline of this prosperous city was abrupt. After Gary’s peak, Indiana experienced in the 1920s and 1940s came a hard crash in the 1960s. Destruction and despair followed the demand of World War II that was similar in many de-industrialized towns across the US.
This was related to population and politics. There was a succession of white ethnic mayors in the 1950s and 1960s, and it ended in 1967 with the election of Richard G. Hatcher. He was one of the nation’s first big-city black mayors. In the 1960s, white flight to nearby suburbs had already begun. Hatcher’s election and subsequent confrontational style served to speed the process considerably. This was also paralleled by white business flight too.
While the descendants of European immigrants moved out of the city, the population declined dramatically to 116,646 by 1990. During this time, the proportion of African Americans rose to over 80 percent. Hatcher was reelected four times due to the secure black power base. This was an unusual record for big-city administrations, leading to Hatcher serving a total of 20 years as Gary’s mayor.
The population of people of color in Gary anticipated better times under Hatcher. Unfortunately, the disappointment gradually replaced political euphoria. This was due to the decline in steel demand. The years when Hatcher was mayor were accompanied by steel company disinvestment. In the late 1960s, Gary had over 30,000 steelworkers. This declined to fewer than 6000 in 1987. Mayor Hatcher also faced the consequences of national policy shifts as the urban development programs.
The years of the Great Society program began winding down under the Nixon administration. While Hatcher worked hard to reverse the patterns of institutional racism, the task was challenging. Finding a way to initiate various economic development strategies in a town that was declining was a challenge. To top it all off, white political and business opposition to Hatcher’s initiatives only grew.
Even though Gary in Indiana was created early in the twentieth century on a wave of optimism for the future, in the later years, it turned out to be one of America’s biggest disappointments. During the various mergers and plant closures within the city, jobs in Gary dwindled.
In 1993 Gary, Indiana, earned the title of murder capital of the U.S. The murder rate at the time was 91 per 100,000 people. That was three times that of Chicago! In 2014 the city of Gary even became a sight of the murders of a serial killer Darren Deon Vann. He was arrested later that year for murdering local women and hiding their bodies in abandoned houses throughout the city. Only seven bodies were found, and many more are suspected to be out there still.
These days, Gary, Indiana, is nothing but a ghost town. Many of the schools have been closed. Stores were vacated and houses abandoned. The buildings within the city have become derelict. It is second only to Detroit in the percentage of population lost since the turn of the century.
How Gary In Indiana Turned Into America’s Murder Capital
The decline in Gary had become so apparent that it had become a sight of a remake of one of the most famous horror movies of the last century – The Nightmare on Elm’s Street. No wonder, because among Gary’s abandoned streets and houses, it is easy to find a good location for a horror movie.
Even though Gary is only 40 miles from Chicago, it seems like an isolated town. Some of the parts of the city are still filled with people, but most of the streets are abandoned. Walking through the emptier parts, there are only solitary signs of life. One of the residents says:
“We used to be the murder capital of the US, but there is hardly anybody left to kill.”
A sad testimony from someone who grew up in Gary. Like a few others, this resident left for the military and then stayed away for work but returned to the city to care for his mother. The people living in the town are in it mainly because they have nowhere else to go.
The residents of Gary get a bad rap, but they are hard-working, polite, and intelligent, despite what the town might look like.
Many others that still live in Gary in Indiana spend their days in the city, drinking with their neighbors and talking. One such resident is a man named George, who at one point told his story to a reporter. At 21, he moved to Gary from Louisiana in 1951. This was because he was looking for work.
This town was filled with workplaces back then. George got a job at the Sheet and Tool company on the 12th of October, started working on the 13th, and spent the next 42 years and two months there, even as the factories closed.
“Gary just went down. Used to be a beautiful place, once in a time, then it just wasn’t.”