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Digital Diaries: Lake Life

March 16, 2018

Lake life is a term that has taken off recently in Instagram tags, clothing lines and even lifestyle TV shows. But lake life as we know it in Indiana has been around for well over a century. There is something special that draws us back to the water each summer, whether it’s boating, fishing, quality time with family or just pure relaxation. In the Indiana Historical Society collection, the newly digitized diaries and photographs of Clemens O. Mueller give an insider’s look at lake life in Culver in the early 1900s when a lake resort in Indiana was a fairly new idea.

Clemens O. Mueller Diary, 1904 (left) and Senior Portrait, 1907 (right)

Mueller’s diaries charmingly depict his summers at Lake Maxinkuckee with his extended family, which included the well-known Vonnegut family of Indianapolis. They started vacationing at Lake Maxinkuckee in the 1880s, where they spent at least two months at their row of lakefront cottages. Mueller’s first cousins and constant companions on the lake included brothers Alex and Kurt Vonnegut Sr. In each of his summer entries, Mueller described a typical day on the East Shore of Lake Maxinkuckee including sailing, swimming, reading, family tennis matches, and campfires on the pier. He also recorded momentous events such as this one:

July 19, 1905
“A very important day. At 5:30 we walked over to [Henry] Culver’s residence pier. Kurt [Vonnegut Sr.] and I swam from there to Robinson’s pier and back. We are getting in condition to swim the entire length of the lake from the Academy to Norris’s.”

Swimming across the lake became a rite of passage in the family, continuing to the next generation. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. remembered swimming across the lake as a young man in the 1930s, cheered on by his older sister and brother.

Schnull, Mueller and Vonnegut Family Tennis Match, 1908

Lake Maxinkuckee view from “Hilarity Hill” Cottage, 1908

Beyond his beloved Lake Maxinkuckee, Mueller wrote about life in Indianapolis at the turn of the 20th century, activities at Das Deutsche Haus before it became the Athenaeum, and his days at the original Shortridge High School on North Pennsylvania Street. He was a prolific diarist and family photographer, keeping thousands of entries from 1900-1913.

Kathy Mulder works in Digital Collections at IHS. She first became interested in history while tagging along with her grandmother who was a docent in historic Madison, Indiana.

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