By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 16x20, painted 2017
Original photograph taken - 1946
When my husband and I moved to Chicago in 2004 we quickly discovered the pleasure of renting a sweet little cottage every summer in Union Pier MI. Suntanned and rested upon our return, local friends would tell us stories of how their parents and grandparents used to rent or own homes there.
I started researching the history of the region. As early as the 1920’s Jews, wishing to escape the heat and cramped conditions of living in downtown Chicago would flock to the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan for fresh air and beautiful sunsets. Eventually the region was dubbed the ‘Catskills of the Midwest’. In the 1920’s, however, Jews were not welcome at certain beaches and communities in Southwestern Michigan. Fences and armed guards were employed to keep ‘Jews and Dogs’ out at neighboring Lakeside. When anti-Jewish sentiment on the beaches along Lake Michigan became extremely rabid, Dr. Louis Gordon, a Jewish physician from Chicago, purchased a plot of land in Union Pier and built the Gordon Beach Inn, which became a popular destination for Jewish summer cottagers.
I can honestly say we love our time Union Pier but when I see my children frolicking on those beaches, the same ones that were closed to Jews a few generations ago, I am haunted by the intolerance of the past and wonder about how it must have felt to know that there were places in America where Jews were simply not welcome. This painting is of my friend’s grandparents sun-tanning and enjoying a cigarette on Gordon Beach in the 1940’s.