by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
May 16, 2006
'DIANA OF THE DUNES' PLAYED SECOND ANGEL TO A NURSE
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Once upon a time there was a real live person named Alice Mabel Gray who in her early years was a brilliant part of the team at the United States Naval Observatory. She is better known as Diana of the Dunes, a recluse known to run naked on the sands of Lake Michigan, occasionally seen by fishermen as she bobbed around in the surf.
There is certainly more to her historical record, although not all that much has been recorded for us.
For most of the Sixties and into the Seventies, we also lived on the shores of Lake Michigan where the legend of Diana - the only name we knew her by at the time - was growing each time it was told. It's a fact that she was keenly interested in astronomy and was considered a free spirit. I don't know what she was called that before she just up and left her successful career or after it became known that she dropped out of the civilized world and took up the life of a recluse.
Diana was not a total recluse; she did go to the local library to borrow books and she spoke about the dunes and natural history. We know that she ate things that grew in the area and was able to catch fish. Whether legend or reality, the story is that she followed this life style after reading a passage from Byron: "in solitude when we are least alone."
Once interviewed by a Chicago newspaper reporter, she was quoted as saying she was inspired by the poem that provided: "my first longings to get away from the conventional world, and I never gave up the idea, although a long time passed before I could fulfill it."
She savored that line until she was 35, then moved into an old abandoned shack on the beach. That was in 1915 and when we heard the story in 1965, we learned she moved in with a jelly jar for a glass, one knife, one spoon, two guns and a blanket.
Diana's store of goods did not grow over the years of telling the story, but I'm not so sure it didn't shrink. We know that she died in 1925 and was not cremated as she had wished with ashes scattered in the sands of the dunes. She is buried in Gary, Indiana, the town adjacent to the Indiana Dunes, now a National Lakeshore Park.
You would think news of her death and burial would put to rest Diana of the Dunes. But it doesn't. Alice Mabel Gray may be dead and buried but Diana can still be seen cavorting on the beach after dark - she has been spotted by at least as many people who have seen Nelly, the Lochness Monster, or Big Foot in the Northwest.
In 1916, It was a Chicago newspaper reporter who dubbed Ms. Gray "Diana of the Dunes." The mythological Diana was Goddess of the Moon and enemy to the Goddess of the Sun. The late night naked runner was never seen by day on either sand or in water and it was known she was an astronomer.
The spirit lives on and the legend grows. Although no pictures are on file at the Naval Observatory, a description is: Short dark hair. The descriptions in song and story are of a long-haired woman, long, curly-haired woman. She's only seen by the light of the moon but it's usually foggy. The teller of these tales always get the listener's rapt attention, at least this listener.
I was so intrigued by Diana that In the spring of 1966 I decided to name our baby Diana. The baby was due in mid April and I strongly hoped it would be a girl, just so I could call her Diana.
There was a street in our community named Diana. I liked the way it looked boldly printed on the sign. I liked the way the letters flowed when I wrote it. I liked the way it sounded. Yes, I liked it. Her middle name would be "jo," a Scottish word for "darling." I was happy.
When we went into Methodist Hospital in Gary, Ind., to be taken to the labor room and then the delivery room, I was not so happy. The hospital was under construction with workmen all over, plaster dust covered the floors, painter's drop cloths were either hanging from the ceiling or covering equipment.
It was not a soothing atmosphere, but I had the satisfaction of knowing I had a name picked out that sounded perfect, could neither be misspelled nor mispronounced. Enter Nurse Nancy. This young woman was surely the Angel of Mercy we hear about. She put me at ease, settled me in, took care of my every need well beyond anyone's expectations - and, she was seven months pregnant herself.
We were not in a room, we were in an open area but curtained in all around each bed. Petula Clark was singing "Downtown" over and over until someone changed it and then it was "Help Me Rhonda." I don't remember that artist, but I still remember the sounds. Nancy took my pulse, talked softly with her voice quietly under the din. Her smile was warm and her laugh infectious.
Because of her warmth, I became very comfortable waiting for more serious contractions to begin. This was baby number five so I was no stranger to delivery rooms - but not all of them had been this accommodating. I told her I hope she was lucky enough to have a nurse just like herself when her own baby was born. She smiled when I said, "I think every woman in labor should have a 'Nancy.'"
And so it was that Nancy stayed with me and we talked all through the evening. She told me she planned to name her baby Stacy if it were a girl.
"Pretty," I said.
Of course, I secretly felt I had the better name chosen but I didn't want to say it out loud and jinx my hope of having a girl or even take the slight chance that she would "steal" it. At just the right time, Nancy called the doctor in and I was wheeled through the corridors and into the delivery room, totally free from the chaos outside, and so very comfortable with Nancy in charge.
I heard the lusty cry just as the doctor said "We have a girl." I was delighted. It was just as I had hoped. We had another girl. There were three boys and a girl at home already, this little one would balance it somewhat. Yes, that was a wonderful moment and when the Floor Nurse came in to the room with a clipboard full of papers, she asked if I needed another day or had I chosen a name for Baby Girl Daley.
"Oh, yes. I have a name chosen". I glanced over at my beloved nurse Nancy coming toward me with my beautiful baby all clean and swaddled in pink flannel ready to be placed in my arms. My smile met Nurse Nancy's and then I said with the confidence that comes from doing just the right thing, "We'll call her Nancy. Nancy Jo Daley."
Surprise - and perhaps you could say gratitude - swept over her face, but I had turned away, focusing on my own Nancy. Somehow the nurse knew she now had a namesake; this baby was named just for her.
As for Diana, well, she remains to this day the recluse who lived in a shack where our children later played on the very same beach. She was named for a Moon Goddess; my Nancy was named for a real, live angel.