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Out in the Open: Rural Life, Respectability, and the Nudist Park

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In the early 1930s, after attending a showing of This Nude World at the Castle Theater in Chicago, Alois Knapp and his wife Lorena decided to convert their 200-acre farm located in Roselawn, Indiana into a nudist camp. Although they had never dreamed that they would go into the “nakedness business,” the idyllic scenes that they had seen on screen—of nude men and women frolicking naked in Germany, France, and the United States—profoundly affected the couple, who had privately enjoyed “sunbaths for over ten years.” The couple thought that Lorena’s family farm, located fifty-five miles south of Chicago and surrounded by thick woods, could provide privacy and create the perfect weekend escape for men, women, and children to enjoy nature, sunbathing, and fresh air in the nude.

The middle-aged couple gave “Zoro Nature Park,” founded on July 16th, 1933, a distinctly mom and pop character. In little more than a month, the small group grew to over fifty members. By October, Alois and Lorena limited the membership to two hundred in order to preserve the “community spirit among them.”Until recently, migration into the cities in the twentieth century influenced historians of sexuality to focus primarily on the urban landscape as a key component of sexual liberalism. The history of nudism’s emergence in the United States reveals that sparsely populated rural areas proved more hospitable to the fledgling movement than did major cities.

Nudists discovered that urban spaces, and the repressive movements and authorities there, accentuated the eroticism of the naked body while rural locations allowed for multiple and contradictory conceptions of nakedness that could be molded and constructed around health, family, and recreation. The American countryside—framed as a site of innocence—provided an ideal setting for the healthy, nature-oriented, and heteronormative principles of nudism and gave the movement the respectability necessary to develop and prosper in the United States.

The diving platform

Meeting at gymnasiums and private countryside retreats, small groups of men and women removed their clothes and participated in exercises that included tossing medicine balls, vigorous calisthenics, and swimming. Nudists believed that the experience of going naked was essential to maintaining physical and mental health. For many, the removal of clothing served as an important hygienic purpose since it freed the excretory functions of the skin from sweating garments that clung to the body and restricted free flowing movement. In addition, several early advocates wanted to reform what they considered to be a psychologically unhealthy conception of the body as shameful and erotic. American nudists contended that being naked with the opposite sex satisfied the “natural” curiosity to see and know about the body, promoted a “wholesome” way of thinking, and ultimately strengthened the relations between men and women.

The perceived eroticism of the naked body, however, remained a constant threat to the therapeutic character of nudism. Many social critics and moral reformers asserted that nudism’s therapeutic ideals and principles masked the movement’s effort to profit from the commercial appeal of the naked body. In cities like New York, local police, community leaders, politicians, and judges conflated nudist gatherings with a rapidly expanding sexual urban underworld. There, they believed, prostitutes used their scantily clad bodies to entice customers, while seedy bookstores, theaters, and newsstands brandished nudity for profit, and naked men met in bathhouses to engage in homosexual acts. Critics construed nudist activities as yet another form of commercial sexuality that needed to be removed from the city. The countryside had fewer regulations and nudist camps thrived there.

In the 1930s, a network of rural nudist camps that built on the idealized relationship between nature and nudity emerged in places like Indiana, New Jersey, and California and allowed urban residents to escape the noise, pollution, and stresses of the city and enjoy hiking, athletic competitions, swimming, rowing, and, of course, sunbathing.

Continued…Read full original article…

Source: Naturally Carolina

Original publication 24 July, 2020

Posted on NatCorn 18th August 2020

Reference to an article does not infer endorsement of any views expressed.

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