Michigan City Dreams Big

When the diplomats of 1946 confronted suburban governments, they didn’t have a chance.  Kim Ukura, who has first-hand experience in community journalism, pointed this out in her review of Capital of the World.  This passage made her laugh:

Time and time again during the summer of 1946, negotiators for the United Nations motored from New York City to Westchester County, New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut, the two suburban counties where they hoped to find a site for a headquarters. But in the meeting rooms of county and municipal authorities, it became clear that even diplomats who had served kings and presidents, who had kept governments afloat in exile during the war, and whose nations had subjected entire populations to colonial rule, were no match for local governments and suburban property owners.

The potential world capital site outside Michigan City, photographed June 17, 2013.

The potential world capital site outside Michigan City, photographed June 17, 2013.

I began my career as a local government news reporter in Michigan City, Indiana – and so it came as quite a surprise when I discovered that this town at the tip of Lake Michigan was one of the many self-anointed world capital contenders.  In contrast to the suburban homeowners near New York, the people of Michigan City pursued the dream. The plan was to put the United Nations at the International Friendship Gardens, which had been transplanted from the 1933-34 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago to a site just east of Michigan City.

For about a month in 1945, the Michigan City News-Dispatch promoted this bold aspiration with gusto.

“Shall we dream a moment?” the newspaper’s columnist, Albert W. Spiers Jr., wrote encouragingly.

“Michigan City May Furnish Capital Site,” read the headline when the governor of Indiana included the Friendship Gardens in a letter proposing four possible sites in the Hoosier State.  “City’s Chances Brightened by Latest Action,” the paper announced when the diplomats decided to narrow their search to sites east of the Mississippi River. In addition to the Friendship Gardens, state officials suggested the Indiana Dunes area west of town, in the direction of Chicago.

townmapsusa.com

townmapsusa.com

Alas, soon the headline became “City Loses in Bid for UNO Site.”  Even though Indiana’s lieutenant governor flew to London to make a pitch for a world capital in Indiana, all Midwestern sites were eliminated because of the region’s reputation for isolationism.  “Today’s news bitterly disappointed Michigan Cityans who have been more and more encouraged lately as northern Indiana appeared more and more to be the logical choice for the UNO [United Nations Organization] capital,” the News-Dispatch reported.

Like so many other cities and towns during 1945 and 1946, in trying to persuade the world’s diplomats, Michigan City had also convinced itself that it could be the Capital of the World.