Diana of the Dunes – the Indiana ghost story that will leave you absolutely baffled

The tale of Diana of the Dunes is one of the oldest ghost stories to date in Indiana, United States. It pertains to a young, ghostly woman who would often be seen walking around at the Indiana Dunes.

Indiana Dunes
The Indiana Dunes © IndianaDunes.com

The woman was known as Diana (or Dianne), though her real name was Alice Mable Gray. She was called Diana because of her beauty. Diana or Alice had moved to the Indiana Dunes due to her failing eyesight and desire to live again where she grew up. She lived in primitive conditions among the sand dunes and became interested in the history, ecology and geology of the area.

Trained in mathematics, astronomy, and classical languages at the University of Chicago in the early 1900s, Alice rejected a wage-earning, urban life in favor a solitary existence at the Indiana Dunes. Alice’s unconventional lifestyle fascinated the general public and area news reporters, who gave her the “Diana” moniker.

Diana of the Dunes
Alice Gray at the Indiana Dunes where she lived for over nine years, starting in 1915 until her death in 1925. In an interview with the Tribune in 1916 she had this to say: “I was tired of working under the conditions and the lighting in offices, so I came out here. Then I wished never to go back to Chicago ― to the learned and the officious. Out in the dunes I wished to regain my poise once more and trust.” © Chicago Tribune Historical Photo

Alice married a man who was believed to be a murderer, who was thought to be very cruel to her. She died after giving birth to her second child, but people still saw her walking along the sandy dunes.

Diana of the dunes Indiana
1916, Alice Gray, better known as “Diana of the Dunes,” lived in a little 10 x 20 shack she named “Driftwood” at the Indiana Dunes. The shack had a sand-floor and was abandoned when she moved in. Alice said that a fisherman had told her about the deserted sand-floored hut that she made into her home. © Chicago Tribune Historical Photo

Some say Diana still walks the beach, trying to relive happier days, before losing her eyesight and succumbing to an abusive husband. Others claim they always saw Diana’s ghost, even while Alice was alive.

Diana Of the dunes Alice Husband
Paul Wilson was Alice Gray’s ‘caveman’ husband in 1922. The two met sometime in 1921 and lived at the Indiana Dunes together until her death in 1925. This photo may be from a news article about Paul being shot in the foot, and Alice getting taken to the hospital with a skull fracture during a ruckus with a sheriff’s deputy in 1922. © Chicago Tribune Historical Photo

Either way, this baffling story helped make the Indiana Dunes popular and helped gain the attention it needed to become a public state park. Though no one can quite explain Diana’s reappearance or understand her motives for haunting this beach, she does seem to be a harmless and friendly ghost.

Through the final years of her life, Diana attained the status of a local celebrity, but her greatest legacy was her role in focusing public interest in the Indiana Dunes when the natural area was threatened by encroaching real estate development. Efforts had begun to preserve the dunes, but the local community’s support was critical in helping establish the area as a nature preserve.

Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park © Wikimedia Commons

Public interest in Diana’s nonconformist lifestyle, the legends that surrounded the “Diana of the Dunes” legend, and her writings and speeches in support of preserving the area helped bring the dunes to the public’s attention and eventually the creation of the Indiana Dunes State Park.