Neighborhoods Section

In the Archives: Dynamite Baseball Catcher

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s local history column appears in The Ann Arbor Chronicle usually sometime around last Wednesday of the month. This month’s column draws upon the archives of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s namesake – a 19th century University of Michigan student newspaper called The Chronicle-Argonaut. In its era, The Chronicle-Argonaut maintained a rivalry with the Michigan Daily – in the form of a “base ball” game. So it’s fitting that Bien’s column this month also highlights University of Michigan baseball from that time period.

Moses with his 1882 UM teammates.

Moses Fleetwood Walker with his 1882 UM teammates.

He smashed the color barrier in major league baseball. During his lifetime, Congress passed sweeping civil rights legislation. No modern baseball player can wear his team number on a uniform. And unlike Jackie Robinson, he was a University of Michigan alum.

Moses Fleetwood Walker was born Oct. 7, 1856 in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. His parents may have settled there due to the eastern part of the state’s long association with the Underground Railroad.

Moses, or Fleet as he was later called, was the fifth or sixth of seven children born to physicians Moses and Caroline Walker. The 1860 census lists two three-year-olds, Moses and Lizzie. The little girl, possibly Moses’ twin, does not appear in the 1870 census.

Soon after Moses’ birth, the family moved to nearby Steubenville, 40 miles west of Pittsburgh. Their neighbors there worked as bricklayers, dyers, pattern makers, tinners, and laborers. Moses attended an integrated school and at graduation chose Oberlin College, one of the first colleges in the nation to admit black and female students. When Oberlin formed its first baseball team in 1881, Moses joined as a catcher.

It was a tough position to play in that era. The catcher had no body protection or face mask. He didn’t even have a glove, but caught barehanded. In addition, in 1881 the pitcher’s throwing position was not 60 feet and six inches from home plate as it is today, but only 50 feet (and before that 45 feet). Pitchers for a time were even allowed to take a running start. Common catchers’ injuries included broken ribs and fingers, facial injuries, and concussions. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Woodlawn Cemetery

Editor’s Note: Laura Bien’s regular column this month would be suitable for publication as a Veterans Day column, on Veterans Day itself – which is observed on Nov. 11. But we’re publishing the piece in Bien’s regular rotation as a way of noting that it’s not required to wait until Veterans Day to remember the service of veterans.

A rumble builds into a growl. Silver flashes between treetops and a leviathan emerges into open sky. The magisterial craft draws gazes below, as it did seven decades ago, but this time without fear. Leaf-rakers in eastside Ypsilanti yards pause to watch its unhurried passage.

Marion Frierson's grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, Ypsilanti.

Marion Frierson’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, Ypsilanti.

In its periodic passenger flights ($425 per person) and summer airshow circlings, the B-17 bomber passes within sight of 150 additional upturned faces. Beneath the roar of the polished martial icon lie some veterans, now silenced, and seldom remembered as part of the Greatest Generation. Their ambitions and bravery were likely scorned in their day and largely forgotten in ours.

They were laid to rest in a now-abandoned, segregated cemetery.

Just south of Ford Lake and east of the Ypsilanti Township Civic Center lies Woodlawn Cemetery. To drivers on Huron River Drive, it flits past as a grassy field. The adjacent dead-end dirt road Hubbard extends to the cemetery’s far southern end.

From that vantage point, only two man-made features rise above the site’s uneven surface. One is a homemade wooden cross bearing worn cream paint and stick-on mailbox letters spelling “BERTHA CAMPBELL.” The other is a small American flag. A brass military grave marker underneath is labeled “MARION F. FRIERSON” followed by Army acronyms and dates. [Full Story]

In the Archives: The Friendless Dead

Willie Brown ended his days among strangers, his body submerged with theirs in a large vat of preservative liquid in the basement of the onetime University of Michigan medical school that stood on the east side of the present-day Diag.

Origin points for each of the over 100 cadavers donated to the UM in 1881. Map compiled by author from Anatomical Donations Program records.

Origin points for each of the over 100 cadavers donated to the UM in 1881. (Map compiled by the writer from Anatomical Donations Program records. Image links to complete map.)

The 22-year-old had never married or had children. If he kept a diary it apparently was not preserved in a public archive. His parents were from New York state, but even this meager detail was forgotten by the author of his death certificate. Willie was a hired farmhand, without distinctions like membership in the Pioneer Society of Washtenaw County. That group counted as a member his employer, successful veteran Pittsfield farmer Jefferson Rouse.

Ignored in life, Willie commanded intense attention after death from the medical students dissecting his body. They examined and took notes on the body that had helped shear Rouse’s 350 sheep, tend his dozen pigs, and harvest the hops, potatoes, apples, wheat, and Indian corn on Rouse’s 560 acres between Saline and the present-day Ann Arbor airport.

The students may have dissected Brown’s lungs to look for signs of the tuberculosis that killed him. When Willie got sick, he apparently wasn’t cared for on the farm, at least not for long. He went to the county poorhouse, at what is now the southwest corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road. There among the other nearly 70 residents in 1881, he died.

No friend or relative claimed him, and he wasn’t buried in the unmarked poorhouse cemetery just west of the poorhouse. His body was placed on a wagon that traveled from the poorhouse up the dirt road of Washtenaw Avenue to the medical school. Medical science owed Willie’s contribution to a new 1881 state law that strengthened the up-till-then largely-ignored proviso that the bodies of the unfortunate could be legally delivered to the UM for study. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Last Train to Carp-ville

Berlin-born Sonoma, California aquapreneur Julius Poppe chaperoned his group of 83 passengers on board a steamer moored in Bremen, Germany. The 12-day journey to New York that summer of 1872 proved deadly. After arrival and a two-day quarantine, only 8 of Poppe’s charges survived.

German/scale/common carp: The German or common carp was the variety most widely spread in Michigan.

German/scale/common carp: The German or common carp was the variety most widely spread in Michigan.

Poppe settled them onto a train. The Transcontinental Railroad linking the West Coast to Iowa and the eastern rail network had been completed only three years earlier. Despite Poppe’s best efforts for those in his care, two more died in San Francisco, and another died on the boat from San Francisco to the coast near Sonoma.

Five had survived the nearly 7,000-mile journey – only the youngest, each about the size of a pen. Poppe placed them in his pond that August, hoping for their survival.

By the following May, the five German carp, also known as scale or common carp, had spawned 3,000 young. They also helped spawn a short-lived nationwide carp craze. In Michigan, state fish officials’ initial enthusiasm turned to alarm as the non-native’s depredations became another one of the state’s late 19th-century ecological disasters. [Full Story]

City Notifies Selma Cafe of Zoning Violation

The city of Ann Arbor has sent a notice of zoning violation to the popular Selma Cafe, a weekly home-based breakfast gathering that raises money for local farmers and farming activities.

Selma Cafe, Lisa Gottlieb, zoning, Ann Arbor planning, Food System Economic Partnership, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A map posted earlier this year on the Selma Cafe website aimed to address parking and traffic concerns in the neighborhood.

The group has also received notice that the nonprofit Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) has decided to end its fiscal sponsorship of Selma Cafe, citing “significant violations” of the terms in a memorandum of understanding between the two entities. The FSEP board voted to make the move in late March.

But it’s the zoning violations that could force a dramatic change in Selma Cafe, which often draws more than 200 people to the home of co-founder Lisa Gottlieb, located near Eberwhite Elementary School. The letter, dated April 3 from city planning manager Wendy Rampson, notes that home occupations are allowed in residential areas, but with certain restrictions. The letter states that Selma Cafe violates those restrictions in three ways: (1) more people are involved in the operation than are allowed under city code; (2) more than the permitted 10 vehicle trips per day are generated; and (3) the need for parking is not being met.

Reached by phone on Friday, Gottlieb said she plans to hand-deliver a response to the city on Monday. She believes the parking, traffic and congestion issues are resolved, and she is actively pursuing two other locations as possible venues for the weekly breakfasts. She disagrees with the city’s interpretation of the code, noting that Selma Cafe is not a business and the people who work there are volunteers, not employees. Although she hopes to continue holding the breakfasts, she said at this point it’s unclear how things will play out and whether that will be possible.

Gottlieb noted that one neighbor had criticized Selma Cafe for bringing thousands of people to the neighborhood since they started in 2009. Although the neighbor had cited that as a negative thing, Gottlieb said to her it seemed “pretty incredible” that the effort had been able to engage so many people in raising money for the local foodshed, keeping money in the community and helping local farmers.

Regarding the issues raised by FSEP, Gottlieb explained that she had withdrawn funds from the FSEP-managed bank account to transfer into a new account created as Selma Cafe transitions to become an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit. She had not first informed FSEP of the withdrawal, as required under terms of the memorandum of understanding. Even if that had not occurred, she added, “the fact is they wanted to be done with us.”

Obtaining the nonprofit status is taking longer than anticipated, so Selma Cafe is seeking another fiscal sponsor. Until that happens, the funds for Selma that remain in the FSEP-managed account – which total about $40,000 – are frozen. If no new fiscal sponsor is found and Selma does not obtain its 501(c)3 designation by May 31, FSEP could take the Selma assets permanently, under terms of the MOU. If that happened, FSEP would need to allocate those funds “in any manner consistent with applicable tax and charitable trust laws and other obligations.” [Full Story]

In the Archives: Lightning Rod for Swindles

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s most recent “In the Archives” column highlighted a 19th century scam involving oats. That column briefly mentioned a lightning rod scam. In this month’s column Bien provides a bit more background on lightning rod swindles.

Edward Roes 1904 "How to Do Business" warned readers to be wary of itinerant agents.

Edward Roe’s 1904 “How to Do Business” warned readers to be wary of itinerant agents.

Scams and swindles proliferated in the late 19th century, despite a sometimes idealized modern-day view of the period. “Work at home” offers targeted housewives in an era with very few opportunities for women to gain respectable work outside of the home. The candidate had to purchase a sample embroidery kit or small artwork, complete it, and return it to the company. Invariably, the finished work was never acceptable – because the companies made their money not in farming out work to home-based workers, but in selling samples.

Patent medicines were rife. Food adulteration was common. Fake doctors took trains from town to town, offering miraculous cures. Promissory-note shenanigans took place.

One little-known yet strange swindle, which affected Washtenaw County farmers, the state as a whole, and elsewhere, involved no more than a simple metal stick – a lightning rod. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Sowing Bogus Oats

The well-dressed stranger standing in the driveway certainly had the farmer’s attention. The stranger’s eyes flicked over one of the farmer’s suspenders fastened to faded trousers with a nail as he described his generous proposition. The farmer glanced at the visitor’s handsome buggy – this was a gentleman of means, offering a poor man a shot at paying off the mortgage. After a handshake, the stranger retrieved some papers from his buggy and held out a pen.

Threshing Oats

This late 19th-century public domain stereoscopic image shows threshing in Illinois.

In the mid-1880s, one fraudulent scheme snookered thousands of Michigan farmers across the lower half of the lower peninsula, including many in Washtenaw County. As the fraud spread like a storm over sixteen Michigan counties, it left farmers crushed by debt, newspapers issuing shrill warnings, and a rising tide of lawsuits that crested not once but several times in the Michigan Supreme Court.

The miracle product responsible for ruination was the fabled “Bohemian oats,” a variety of oat touted as far more valuable than the regular oats then for sale from 35 to 50 cents a bushel in southeastern Michigan. [Full Story]

In the Archives: On Keeping Your Pants Up

Offered at Ypsilanti clothing store Sullivan and Cook almost exactly 100 years ago – in July of 1912 – were invisible suspenders.

Invisible suspenders

Invisible suspenders were patented in 1900.

On absorbing this tidbit of information, the perplexed reader may justly wonder how on earth one could pick out a particular style of said accessory – or would style even matter? At a 2-for-1 invisible suspender sale, how would a buyer know he’d received both pairs? What if the invisible suspenders were mislaid around the house, never to be found again?

Such questions are justified, if slightly surreal, for anyone unacquainted with this clothing item once widely available in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and across the nation.

From obscure elastic hangs a tale of changing worlds.

Far from being a passing fad, invisible suspenders were a tiny signifier of vast inexorable social change in early 20th century America, and as iconic in their humble way as the Model T. [Full Story]

In the Archives: “Freedmen’s Progress”

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s In the Archives column for The Chronicle appears monthly. Look for it around the end of every month or sometimes towards the beginning.

A recent Ward 1 Ann Arbor city council candidate forum included some discussion of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County, to be located on Pontiac Trail. In this month’s column, Bien takes a look at one piece of African American history with an Ann Arbor connection – the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

The interior of Henry Wade Robbins' Ann Arbor barber shop at 117 Ann St.

The interior of Henry Wade Robbins' Ann Arbor barber shop at 117 Ann St.

Ann Arbor barber Henry Wade Robbins is one of many Washtenaw County residents singled out for commendation in a largely forgotten but historically invaluable book assembled in just three months in 1915. “Mr. Robbins has completely negated the popular fallacy that in order to be successful in the barber business the boss was required to draw the color line in his patronage,” says the work’s biographical entry for Robbins.

“This Mr. Robbins has never done. He treated all gentlemen alike and catered to high-class trade, both white and colored, and he has numbered and still numbers among his patrons many of the best-known white people in Michigan …” Robbins owned his own shop and its upstairs apartments at 117 Ann St. where he, his wife Martha, and their son and daughter lived.

The book’s data on employment, home ownership, and achievements by black Michiganders was collected and compiled by a panel of Michigan African Americans selected by Michigan governor Woodbridge Ferris. Their work was compiled into the “Michigan Manual of Freedman’s Progress” (MMFP), which offers a cross-section of successful black Michiganders in the early 20th century.  [Full Story]

In the Archives: Lit by Kerosene

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s In the Archives column for The Chronicle appears monthly. Look for it around the end of every month or sometimes towards the beginning.

On a May evening in 1866, 15-year-old Ann Arborite Maria Benham got ready for bed in her Third Ward home, which also housed her cabinetmaker father Warren, her mother Rachel, and siblings George, Menora, and Alice.

Maria was a grammar school student at the Union School at Huron and State Streets, later the site of Ann Arbor High School and eventually renamed the Frieze Building. The school year was almost over, and the annual yearbook was about to be printed.

Non-explosive lamp, kerosene

Advertisement from the Dec. 25, 1869 Ypsilanti Commercial.

When it came out, Maria’s name had an asterisk.

Maria removed the glass chimney of her kerosene lamp and flipped her apron at the flame to puff it out. Instead, the lamp exploded, enveloping her in flames. Maria ran downstairs towards the cistern. Someone spotted her and threw his overcoat over her flaming body, suffocating the fire.

Maria had severe burns over her entire body. After an agonizing night, she died at 6 a.m. She would have been sixteen that August.

Her story, originally reported by the Ann Arbor Argus, was reprinted by papers in Hillsdale, Marshall, and elsewhere in the state. Unfortunately, it was a familiar tale. Kerosene lamp explosions were tragically common in 19th-century Michigan. It seems odd, because kerosene is a relatively stable, non-explosive fuel, far less volatile than such lighter petroleum products as gasoline or naptha. A lit match thrown into a cup of room-temperature kerosene will simply go out.

Maria had been born in 1850, around the dawn of the domestic oil industry. Many unscrupulous oil refiners of that era pursued profits at the cost of lives like hers. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Poison Pages

A second-floor shelf of University of Michigan’s Buhr book storage facility contains Michigan’s single most dangerous book.

shad-gold-small

One of the arsenical wallpapers in "Shadows".

It is one of only two known copies to exist in the state. If not for its historical importance, even the most fervent bibliophile might agree: the fewer copies in the world the better.

“Shadows from the Walls of Death” is dangerous not in the sense of a book containing radical ideas. Nor is it dangerous in the way a bomb-building manual might be. In fact, after the title page and preface, the following 86 pages, each one measuring about 22 by 30 inches, contain no printed words at all.

Michigan State University holds the other copy of “Shadows” in its Special Collections library division. The volume is sealed in a protective container, and each page is individually encapsulated.

Prospective “readers” of “Shadows” at the Buhr building must wear blue plastic protective gloves. During a visit to the Buhr some days ago, the book was wheeled out slowly on its individual cart. The marbled pattern on the cover showed through a protective thick-gauge plastic bag.

I held my breath as I gingerly eased open the cover, and while “reading” the pages I was careful to avoid any skin contact. “Shadows” is saturated with a deadly amount of arsenic. [Full Story]

Wall Street Redux: Residents Give Input

Many of the same residents who gathered at Kellogg Eye Center in late 2008 attended another meeting this month on a similar topic: The University of Michigan’s construction of a 700-space parking structure on Wall Street.

Neil Martin, Eliana Moya-Raggio

Wall Street resident Eliana Moya-Raggio, right, talks with architect Neil Martin after the April 26 meeting at the Kellogg Eye Center. The meeting focused on a University of Michigan parking structure to be built in that neighborhood. Moya-Raggio argued for the right of neighbors to be closely involved in the project's design. (Photos by the writer.)

On April 26, 2012 about 15 residents heard from UM representatives about plans for the $34 million structure, which university regents approved on April 19. The purpose of the meeting was to get input from neighbors that will inform the structure’s design. Roughly 2,000 people live in that general area.

They offered a lot of input, expressing concerns and giving specific suggestions related to noise pollution, traffic congestion, lighting and more. Ideas from residents included putting a green roof on the top of the structure, which will likely be at least 4-5 levels tall; placing the structure as far west on the site as possible, further away from residential buildings; making the structure pedestrian friendly; and encouraging the use of alternative transportation.

Tim Mortimer, president of the Riverside Park Place Condominium Association, criticized UM for a lack of leadership in its approach to parking. While UM officials like to refer to the university as the Harvard of the Midwest, he said, it’s actually more like the Southeast New Jersey Junior College of the Midwest, in terms of environmental sustainability and design. He urged the university to do more, and presented a letter from the condo association’s board that included 11 detailed suggestions for the project – ranging from architecture to entrance/exit configuration. [.pdf of Mortimer's letter]

Jim Kosteva, UM’s director of community relations, defended the university’s efforts in encouraging alternative transportation. And Tom Peterson, associate director of operations and support services for the UM Hospitals and Health Centers, provided details on a range of programs offered by UM in that regard – including vanpools, Zipcars, free bus service through MRide, and shuttle service from outlying parking lots.

But Peterson also presented the university’s case for needing more parking at the Wall Street location, pointing to employment growth at the nearby UM medical campus. Since 2009, employment at the UM medical school and hospital complex has grown from about 19,000 to nearly 21,000 employees. Even more staff will be added when a major renovation of the former Mott children’s hospital is completed, he said.

The Wall Street parking project was revived after the university pulled out of the proposed Fuller Road Station in February. The joint effort with the city of Ann Arbor would have included a 1,000-space parking structure and, some hoped, an eventual train depot. When asked about it at Thursday’s meeting, Kosteva said the university still shares the city’s vision for that Fuller Road site as a good location for intermodal transportation. When the city receives the federal support it needs for this project, he added, the university is prepared to be re-engaged about its potential role.

Kosteva was also asked about future plans for even more parking on Wall Street. He noted that the master plan for the medical center, including the Wall Street area, was approved by regents in 2005 and remains in place. The master plan anticipates adding 700,000 to 900,000 square feet of clinical and research space in the area, as well as two parking structures. That plan is guiding decision-making, he said. [.pdf of 2005 medical center master plan]

The bulk of the 90-minute meeting focused on design aspects of the Wall Street structure, in a discussion led by university planner Sue Gott. Several people pointed to the city’s Fourth & Washington parking structure as a model. Wall Street resident Elizabeth Colvin said she refers to it as the “Sue Gott parking structure,” because of Gott’s instrumental role in soliciting public input that helped shape the design. At the time, Gott worked for JJR and was a consultant on that project.

Gott, who grew up in Ann Arbor, replied by saying she knew UM had to deliver something that was worthy of this city, and something they can all be proud of. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Purebred Michigan

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s In the Archives column for The Chronicle appears monthly. Look for it around the end of every month or towards the beginning, if things slide a bit – like this month. 

cow-livingston-small

A 1914 ad for the Livingston County Holstein-Friesian Association shows a cow with familiar markings.

Ypsilanti has never lacked for beauties, as any conductor on the onetime Packard Road interurban could have told you. Hordes of University of Michigan boys crowded the streetcars on weekends en route to their belles at Ypsilanti’s Normal teacher training school (which became Eastern Michigan University).

On the way, the young men unknowingly passed the home, at Packard and Golfside, of another belle more famous than any Normal girl. She was quiet and stocky, yet viewed as beautiful.

She had numerous relatives at the insane asylum at Pontiac, which in her case was regarded as a prestigious lineage. Thousands statewide knew her name. Many owned her children.

Pontiac De Nijlander was the state’s epitome of cow excellence in an era characterized, in the agricultural sphere, by what could be called Michigan’s turn-of-the-century “Holstein fever.”

A typical big-bodied black-and-white-splotched Holstein, Pontiac De Nijlander lived at Ypsiland. The 180-acre farm extended from Packard to Ellsworth, bordered on its east side by Golfside Road and owned by brothers Norris and Herbert Cole. Norris eventually bought his brother’s share and became sole proprietor of the farm, whose principal business was breeding top-quality Holstein bulls and cows. [Full Story]

In the Archives: From Cordwood to Caviar

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s In the Archives column for The Chronicle appears monthly. Look for it around the end of every month. Subsequent to the appearance of this article, Bien was interviewed by Interlochen Public Radio about Great Lakes sturgeon. Listen to the interview online via the Interlochen Public Radio website.

Twenty thousand dinosaurs live in the river system bordering Detroit. They’re rugged descendants of the few who survived one of Michigan’s worst ecological disasters, against which one University of Michigan  professor battled – in vain. His efforts were crushed by Michigan’s short-lived yet feverish caviar industry.

Lake Sturgeon

The snaggletooth scutes along the lake sturgeon are visible on this depiction of the lake sturgeon (public-domain image).

Among the most primitive of fish, sturgeon first appeared when the Earth had just one continent. Millenia later the lake sturgeon thickly populated the Great Lakes and was fished by native peoples.

A young adventurer of noble French birth described the fish in his 1703 bestseller whose English title is “New Voyages to North America.” Baron de Lahontan’s book detailed the experiences gleaned from a decade of travel in New France, the onetime colony that encompassed most of present-day eastern Canada and the U.S. He wrote of Lake Erie, “[I]t abounds with sturgeon and whitefish, but trout are very scarce in it as well as the other fish that we take in the Lakes of Hurons and [Michigan].” [Full Story]

In the Archives: Helping the Deserving Poor

Editor’s note: Laura Bien returns this month after a three-month hiatus from her In the Archives column for The Chronicle. Look for it in the future around the end of every month. For this column, she reviewed around 1,500 pages worth of meeting minutes from the Ypsilanti Home Association. 

Nellie Smith* heard someone coming up the stairs and sat up in bed. She could see her breath in the late-winter afternoon light. Perhaps he had left something behind. She glanced around the room. There was nothing on the table, the chair, or the stove with the broken leg propped on a brick.

Knocks sounded. Nellie stood, shook out her ragged nightgown, and opened the door an inch. The friendly gaze of a middle-aged woman in a trim winter coat and long dark skirts met Nellie’s cautious look.

gilbert-young-small

Harriet Gilbert as she looked around the time she was first elected Ypsilanti Home Association president in 1875, an office she held for over 30 years.

Lizzie Swaine introduced herself, apologized for the intrusion, and said there’d been word of a little difficulty at this Washington Street address. It felt cold here, she said – did Nellie have any fuel in the house? No, said Nellie, nor food either. Lizzie asked a few more questions, reassured her that help was coming, thanked her for her time, and left. Likely the women’s interaction was similar to this imagined scene.

What is a matter of record is that some days later Lizzie joined twelve other women for the May 1896 Ypsilanti Home Association meeting at Lovina Briggs’ Huron Street home. As Lizzie described Nellie’s plight, she may have noticed some raised eyebrows. The ladies discussed the case. Later, Association secretary Cleantha Dickinson paraphrased the talk in the 1896 meeting minutes logbook.

“Mrs. Swaine came to present the case of Mrs. Smith,” she wrote, “whom she found without a fire and about to be turned out of her rooms because she could not pay her rent.”

She continued, “Investigation among the ladies proved that the woman had a father and brother in comfortable circumstances who would not help the woman unless she behaved herself … it was found that she had been under arrest for keeping a disorderly house,” a euphemism referring at that time to prostitution.

She concluded, “The ladies decided they could not help her while she persisted in wrong doing.” Luckily, Nellie was an exception – the group helped most of those cases that came before it.  [Full Story]

Column: Occupy Giving

Editor’s note: On Nov. 5, 2011 the Ann Arbor branch of the NAACP held its annual Freedom Fund dinner to honor high-achieving black students. It was keynoted by Raymond Randolph Jr., who participated in the Freedom Rides during the summer of 1961.

99-percent-versus-1-percent

When represented as a pie chart, it's not as clear whether 1% is the top or the bottom. (Chart by The Chronicle)

Also addressing the audience was Ward 1 city councilmember Sabra Briere. Though The Chronicle did not attend the event, with Briere’s permission, we’re publishing the draft of her speech. We think it deserves a wider reading – as the calendar turns to the traditional season of giving, and as police in more than one city appear to be in a mood to move against Occupy demonstrators.

The official motto of the dinner was: “Building the Future on the Foundations of the Past” 

Tonight I’m filling in for the mayor of Ann Arbor, John Hieftje, and for the mayor pro tem, Marcia Higgins. It’s an honor to play your mayor this evening.

I’d like first to remind everyone that tonight we’re not just breaking bread together. We’re celebrating Ann Arbor’s NAACP day, the first Saturday in November. Each year we hold the dinner on this night to remind us of our need to work together.

There are several people in the audience tonight who currently hold office, who have held office in the past, or who would like to hold office in the near future.

If you are a current elected official, please stand. Those who’ve been elected in the past, please join them. And those who are running for office, could you stand too? Let’s applaud their willingness to serve.

I prepared a few remarks, and promise not to speak at length. Tonight’s topic indicates that we are building our future on the foundations of the past.

I take my texts from the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. [Full Story]

Public Gets View of 618 S. Main Proposal

Residents gathered in the sewing room of the former Fox Tent & Awning building on Friday night for the first public meeting about 618 S. Main – a proposed apartment building that fronts Main, Mosley and Ashley streets.

That part of town is perhaps best known for the local landmark Washtenaw Dairy, located less than a block away from the proposed development. At Friday’s meeting, donuts from the shop were offered as refreshment, next to a wall of drawings and maps of the project. Washtenaw Dairy owner Doug Raab was among the 50 or so residents who attended.

Architectural rendering of 618 S. Main project

This architectural rendering of the 618 S. Main project was posted on a wall at the Nov. 11 neighborhood meeting about the project. This view is from the perspective facing northeast, from the intersection of Ashley and Mosley streets. (Photos by the writer.)

The building – a six-story structure, with additional apartments on a penthouse level – will consist of about 180 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with rents likely in the $950 to $1,400 range. Two levels of underground parking are planned, with about 140 spaces. The project targets young professionals in their mid-20s to mid-30s, developer Dan Ketelaar told the group on Friday – people who are interested in an urban lifestyle, within walking distance of the downtown and University of Michigan campus.

Ketelaar hopes the project will transform that section of Main Street and perhaps encourage the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to make improvements in that area, as it’s doing now along Fifth and Division.

Because the project as designed is about 80 feet at its highest point – 20 feet taller than what zoning would allow – it will be submitted to the city as a “planned project.” Planned projects allow for some flexibility in height or setbacks, in exchange for public benefits. They don’t allow as much flexibility, however, as a planned unit development (PUD). Ketelaar cited a large courtyard along Ashley as a benefit to the neighborhood. Another benefit he cited was the provision on site of double the amount of required parking.

Parking was among several concerns mentioned by residents during a Q&A on Friday with Ketelaar and his project team, which includes a landscape architect who also helped design the new plaza and rain garden in front of city hall. Several residents said parking and traffic are already an issue in that neighborhood.

City councilmember Mike Anglin – who represents Ward 5, where the project is located – urged Ketelaar to work toward narrowing Main Street south of Packard from four to two lanes, to slow speeds along that stretch. Ketelaar had mentioned the idea of improving that part of Main Street earlier in the meeting. He said he could suggest narrowing the road, but noted that it’s up to the city to make that decision.

Other issues discussed at the meeting include the need to integrate the development with the neighborhood, the project’s financing, and details of the building’s design. Environmental issues covered at the meeting included: the site’s brownfield status; stormwater management; and relation to the floodplain.

This is the second project to go through the city’s new design review process. The first project to be reviewed in this way – The Varsity Ann Arbor – had been approved by city council the previous night. The design review board will meet at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the former Fox Tent & Awning building at 618 S. Main. That meeting, which is open to the public, will be followed by another community forum on Tuesday, Nov. 22 from 5-7 p.m. at the same location. Ketelaar has previously met with local business owners and members of the Old West Side Association board to discuss the project.

The project is expected to be formally submitted to the city later this month. After review by the city planning staff, it will be considered by the planning commission, which will make a recommendation to the city council. Construction could begin in the fall of 2012. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Normal for Girls to Smoke?

Editor’s Note: Eastern Michigan University first opened in 1853 as Michigan State Normal School, later becoming the Michigan State Normal College. In days gone by a “normal school” was a teacher training college. The inaugural edition of a new Chronicle column by David Erik Nelson describes his schoolteacher wife as a “greedy, terrible, pregnant, unionized public servant.” It makes one wonder how she would have fared among the women students at the normal school in the early 1920s. Laura Bien sketches a picture of their travails in this week’s edition of her local history column. [Full Story]

In the Archives: A Postmaster’s Gamble

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s column this week features two aspects of modern culture that a hundred years from now may have completely disappeared from the landscape: newspapers and the regular mail delivery. The battle she describes – between the press and the postmaster – is ultimately won by the postmaster.

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William Lister in his fraternal-order finery, circa 1904.

Overnight, he’d become the most hated man in Ypsilanti. A series of editorials in the Ypsilanti Daily Press condemned his actions and character. The paper even published a jeering cartoon, among large headlines detailing his disgrace.

William Lister wasn’t a murderer, rapist, or adulterer. With his wire-rimmed glasses and prim expression he resembled a rural schoolmaster or Sunday School teacher, both of which he had been. But his steady gaze hinted at a steely character with greater ambitions, which was also true. In the fall of 1907, William tangled with one of the most powerful groups in town, risking his reputation and his lucrative government job on a matter of principle.

William Noble Lister was born in a log cabin in Iosco township in Livingston County on the last day of 1868. His cabinetmaker father drowned when William was two. William’s mother Frances remarried and the family moved to Ypsilanti in the spring of 1882.

In 1887 William graduated from Ypsilanti High School. For a year, he taught in a rural school in Livingston County’s Unadilla. He returned to Ypsilanti to obtain his teaching degree from the Normal teacher training college. After another stint as a teacher in the western Upper Peninsula, William became Saline school superintendent from 1891 to 1895 – a first step to greater things. [Full Story]

Superman, Spiderman, Feynman, Councilman

By

[Editor's note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks, like this one, also appear on The Chronicle's website.]

Jim Ottaviani

Jim Ottaviani – University of Michigan librarian and graphic novel author. His latest book is "Feynman," a biography of physicist Richard Feynman.

For  a graphic novel with a title like “Feynman,” my smart-aleck reflex is to pronounce the word silently to myself with deliberately wayward stress – so the final vowel gets its full flavor, instead of an unstressed schwa.

That way, it patterns with Superman, Spiderman, Aquaman, Ironman, Batman and other comic book heros. And that allows me to wonder what special powers this Feynman might have, how he got those powers, what his home planet was …

Of course, the Feynman in Jim Ottaviani’s recently published graphic novel is actually not a comic book hero. It’s Richard Feynman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work on quantum physics. (So Feynman’s home planet was Earth, you see.)

Ottaviani explained during his teeter totter ride a couple of weeks ago that he’d not intended the title of his most recent graphic novel to be a word play. It was the publisher who had chosen the title, when Ottaviani had “punted” on that task.

Soon after talking with me on the totter, Ottaviani left town for a book tour. He’ll be back in Ann Arbor in a couple of weeks when he gives a talk on “Feynman” in the University of Michigan’s Hatcher Library Gallery, on Oct. 13, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.

To prepare for his talk, you can buy “Feynman” at Nicola’s Books.

To me, the most interesting part of my conversation with Ottaviani involved the graphic novel as a mechanism for telling a story – in the case of “Feynman,” it’s a physicist’s biography. There’s nothing particularly novel about that – Ottaviani has covered scientific subject matter before in comic book form. His previous work includes a number of books that contain episodes from the lives of Feynman, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Marie Curie, among others.

But that led me to contemplate a different idea. What if one of the staples of Chronicle coverage, a government meeting report, were presented in the form of a graphic novel?

Ottaviani’s reaction to the idea: “Do that, please, is all I can say.” At least the title of that comic book (with apologies to Sabra Briere, Margie Teall, Sandi Smith and Marcia Higgins) would be straightforward: “Councilman.”

Though I can’t draw, I did take a shot at creating two panels of “Councilman.” [Full Story]

In the Archives: Retrospective Lip Smacking

“In the opinion of very many persons … the word ["student"] signifies a young fellow who smokes, chews, drinks, plays billiards, and perpetrates undignified jokes,” reads an October 12, 1867 article in the University of Michigan student newspaper the University Chronicle. “But as has been said many times, the reputation of students in this respect is owing only to the exceptional few. We hope, for their sake, that they may not reap the whirlwind.”

hearst-rush-photo-small

In its August 1909 article on student hazing, Hearst Illustrated magazine published A. S. Lyndon's 1908 photo of students jostling around a flagpole, intent on removing the banner.

The article concerned a developing tradition on college campuses across the country, including UM: an autumn clash between freshmen and sophomores known as “rush.”

The late 1860s appear to be when UM’s tradition of an annual October rush began. The practice would survive for decades despite hospitalizations, expulsions, and several bans against rushing by student government and university officials.

“A rush is a miscellaneous row between two classes, generally freshmen and sophomore, who meet in any of the college halls or grounds,” reads a May 16, 1868 University Chronicle piece on student slang, “and in our own institution is seldom anything more than a good-natured trial of strength between the opponents.”

The article also included slang terms for freshman hazing practices. These included “pumping,” or dousing a frosh in a public water pump, “shaving,” or a less than careful haircut, and “smoking out,” or invading a freshman’s room en masse and lighting pipes till the room was choked with smoke and the new student was nauseated. [Full Story]

In the Archives: U. of M. Too Vulgar?

Editor’s note: This column is offered a week before University of Michigan’s home football opener against Western Michigan University on Sept. 3 – as a public service to news outlets who are new to the UM football beat. It’s important to know how properly to shorten the university’s name. Nowadays, in most official communications the University of Michigan seems to use “U-M” as a shortened version of the full name. Here at The Chronicle, our preferred style is “UM” – we apparently don’t have a budget for extra hyphens. If we accidentally insert a hyphen, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. For heaven’s sake, though, there are alternatives that should absolutely be avoided – even people 100 years ago knew that.

Abbreviation for University of Michigan

The 1890 inaugural issue of the U. of M. Daily, later the Michigan Daily (public domain image from Wikipedia).

The University of Michigan was once disgraced with a nickname so disreputable, so slangy and vulgar, that an essay was published protesting its use. Even a newspaper in another city ran a disapproving editorial.

That nickname was “U. of M.”

In the April 1903 issue of The Michigan Alumnus, a former grad fumed against “the continued and persistent use of the compromising appellation, ‘U. of M.’” He found it coarse – unworthy of a great university.

“In the first place it is not distinctive enough, as there are several other ‘U. of M.’s,’ Maine, Minnesota, and Missouri being the most conspicuous,” he began, going on to excoriate the sloppy abbreviation.

He was not alone. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Muzzling Rabies

Editor’s Note: The Washtenaw County’s public health department web page, updated on Aug. 12, 2011, shows three cases of rabies found in Washtenaw County bats so far this year. Since 2004, most years show 2-3 cases of rabies in bats. In 2009 there were none; but in 2007, 11 cases of bat rabies were recorded. Since 2004, no cases of rabies in dogs have been recorded in Washtenaw County. This week local history writer Laura Bien takes a look back to the early 1900s, when rabies was more prevalent.

Newspaper article

A 1935 Ypsilanti Daily Press article reflects concerns over rabid dogs.

The severed head of a small white poodle was sent from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor in the summer of 1935.

It wasn’t a grisly threat or an act of revenge. The head’s recipients were neither surprised nor disgusted. Severed dog heads were their stock in trade.

The poodle had belonged to Herbert Wilson of Ypsilanti’s northside Ann Street. The dog was “so vicious,” according to the Aug. 6, 1935 Ypsilanti Daily Press, “that even after being wounded by the officers’ rifle fire, [Officer] Klavitter had to strike him with the gun to protect himself. The blow bent the rifle barrel and the officer had to use a nearby tree limb to finish killing the dog.”

The dog had bitten 5-year-old William Himes on his right arm and leg, in an era when a dog bite could lead to an agonizing death.

Dogs in Ypsilanti that August were under quarantine, meaning that they had to be contained within the owner’s home or property. Dogs that broke loose or wandered into the street could be shot on sight by police. In earlier years, anyone was welcome to take their rifle or shotgun into the street and play Atticus Finch with mad dogs. [Full Story]

In the Archives: August Emancipation

Editor’s note: On this, the last day of July, many residents will be thinking ahead to the second day of August, when Ann Arbor voters will select Democratic candidates in city council elections for three of the city’s five wards. Local history writer Laura Bien gives us a reason to pause and ponder the first day of August, too.

Excerpt from Abba Owen's diary entry for Aug. 1, 1888. (Image links to larger file.)

Largely forgotten today, August 1 was once an annual holiday for black residents of Washtenaw County: Emancipation Day.

The day commemorated Britain’s 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which a year later ended slavery in most of the British empire. That included Canada, of course, from which many early local black settlers emigrated.

The day was distinct from and older than Juneteenth (also often called Emancipation Day), a holiday that commemorates the belated announcement of the end of slavery in Texas on June 18, 1865. This year, Ann Arbor observed Juneteenth in Wheeler Park, near the city’s historically black Kerrytown-area neighborhood.

Organized by the Ann Arbor branch of the NAACP, local Juneteenth celebrations date back to 1994. [Full Story]

Column: Pies, Politics, Polls

“Pie lovers … unite!”

As over 50 people throw their fists into the air, the contest resembles a superhero’s meeting more than a pie competition. On Sunday, July 24, Slow Food Huron Valley (SFHV) hosted its 5th annual Pie Lovers Unite! event at the Ypsilanti Ladies Literary Club. Most participants easily fit the “pie lover” label, considering themselves connoisseurs of crusts and aficionados of fillings.

Chronicle Pie Lovers Cutouts

Cardboard cutouts of the five wards of the city of Ann Arbor – not arranged in their actual geographic proximity to each other. (Photo for art by the writer)

But consistent with The Chronicle’s appetite for all things government-related, we could not simply let them eat pie. Instead, we brought handmade cardboard cutouts of Ann Arbor’s five wards and asked a roomful of pie enthusiasts which ward most resembles a slice of pie.

Why?

At its July 5 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council discussed redrawing the boundaries for the city’s five wards. And the city charter states: “The five wards should each have the general character of a pieshaped segment of the city with the point of such segment lying near the center of the city …” That discussion revealed that at least one councilmember holds some reservations about whether the current wards really are pie-shaped wedges of the city.

Kim Bayer, the program coordinator of Pie Lovers Unite!, began the night’s festivities by articulating the event’s mission beyond eating pie: “To strengthen our region’s food system, build community food security, and preserve our culinary heritage.”

She continued, saying, “When something is made from love, you can taste it.” [Full Story]

In the Archives: Huckleberries and Trains

Editor’s note: As discussion of major investments in commuter rail service continues in the Ann Arbor region, Laura Bien’s local history column this week takes a look back to efforts more than a century ago to establish rail connections in the region. Does southeastern Michigan have the wherewithal to enhance existing connections and establish new ones? Or is all that just a huckleberry above our persimmon?

railroad map

This 1895 plat map shows the Huckleberry curving from northern Ypsilanti towards Washtenaw Avenue. (Images link to higher resolution files.)

By the 1980s, the century-old train tracks had been torn up. Now occupying the former roadbed are new Eastern Michgan University buildings, the Washtenaw Avenue Kmart, the abandoned Carpenter Road mini-golf park just south of Thrifty Florist, and Pittsfield Township homes. But only a few years earlier, a sleepy southbound rail line with only one slow train rumbling by a day, was an ideal route for rural nature walks, south of the rail crossing on Washtenaw just east of Golfside.

Onetime Ypsilanti Press linotyper and history columnist Milton Barnes remembered. Barnes was blind. Yet in an early-1980s column for the Press, he helped others visualize a summer ramble.

“Strolling-just a-strolling, down these tracks in late August,” Barnes wrote, “we found a bed of wild strawberries, just a few of them, but as sweet as can be. The spring crop of polliwogs had grown into lively green frogs. There was a bit of water in the ditches along the tracks, with buttercups and cowslips … When we stroll along, and hop from tie to tie, every cow, lamb, dog, pig, and rooster watches. So do the farmers from their back doors, and some wave a cheery ‘How be ye?’ greeting.” [Full Story]

In the Archives: Alaska Trumps Michigan

Editor’s Note: Laura Bien’s local history column this week relates a familiar tale of a gold rush expedition that did not actually lay claim to any gold – but it’s through some elegant prose from an Ypsilanti teacher-turned-prospector’s diary.

A single personal belonging of onetime Ypsilanti teacher Frederick Boyd survives today: a diary preserved in Alaska. With Frederick, the tiny book crossed mountain passes, frozen snowfields, and part of the Pacific ocean. The book details Frederick’s struggle as a miner in the turn-of-the-century Klondike gold rush.

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Beginning in the summer of 1897, Klondike travel agents began advertising in Ypsi papers. This ad is from the Jan. 27, 1898 Ypsilantian.

Frederick had likely read the stories in his hometown paper warning against Yukon hardships – stories that also detailed the luck of a fortunate few. Frederick had a secure job, a wife, and an infant daughter.

On the morning of March 6, 1898, the 33-year-old teacher stepped from the Ypsi depot platform onto an eastbound Michigan Central train. As it began to pull out, he saw his 27-year-old wife Celia on the platform holding their daughter Daphne. Frederick was leaving behind his classroom, his friends, his and Celia’s home, and his hometown. [Full Story]

Photos: Two Barns, One Gets Second Life

Last fall, architect Chuck Bultman wrote a remarkable piece for The Chronicle about the preservation of barns. Near the end of that article, Bultman describes a pair of barns on Scio Church Road, west of Zeeb. And he speculates that they might have been built around the same time.

Scio Church Two Barns

Scio Church Road: Two Barns (Images by Chuck Bultman, link to higher resolution file.)

Bultman also wrote that he’d noticed a hole in the roof of one of the barns: “So I tried to reach the owners to let them know that their asset is at risk. And so far, I have not heard back – maybe something is being planned and workers are lining up to repair it or salvage it, but I do not know, and it is not for me to decide.”

But over the spring, a decision was made – which a week ago led to a Friday evening gathering of Bultman’s friends and associates at the site of those barns. One of the barns stood with its siding removed, its frame laid bare. Wrote Bultman in an email to me: “It is our plan to toast this barn’s first life, and consider its second.”

Its second life will begin in the Pittsburgh area, where Bultman will help transform the re-assembled timbers into a home for one of his clients. The disassembly of the frame and restoration of the wood will be handled by Rudy Christian and his wife Laura, whose shop is in Burbank, Ohio.

Although Bultman had speculated that the two barns on the property were built at the same time, Christian estimated that the barn he’s dismantling dates to the 1830s, while the other one is post-Civil War.

Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan and I took a break from writing about local government to join Chuck on that Friday, and documented the occasion with some photos. [Full Story]

In the Archives: A Coldwater Doll

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s look back into the archives this time around is not really about trains. But there’s a public transit titbit that will likely stand out for readers who’ve been following The Chronicle’s coverage of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s effort over the last year to develop a transit master plan for Washtenaw County.

Thirteen-year-old Ida ran upstairs into the bedroom and opened the closet. Such beautiful things – skirts, dresses and blouses – which one to pick? She selected a long brown skirt of light, glossy brillantine and a brown wool shirt stitched in red silk. They would look lovely with Ida’s brown hair. The clothes were too large, but so much nicer than the drab blouse, faded blue skirt and worn, over-the-ankle black shoes she had on.

Coldwater School 1874

Coldwater Public School as it appeared at its opening in 1874, with the administration building in the foreground and children's cottages in the rear.

There wasn’t much time – she quickly changed.

“Ida!” called a woman from downstairs. “Suppertime!”

It was the eve of Halloween in 1905, but Ida wasn’t selecting a costume, or playing dress-up before Saturday dinner. She was planning an escape.

And although she lived with Mr. and Mrs. Curson* in Ypsilanti’s prosperous Normal Park, she wasn’t their daughter, or even a relative. Ida’s relatives had abandoned her.

That night, her place at the table remained empty. [Full Story]

Photos: Shorter Routine Also Ordinary

Most Saturday mornings at 7:30 a.m., some runners who call themselves the Nasty Boys Glee Club will gather near the corner of Cambridge Road and Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor. The place is the very center of Ann Arbor – as defined by the Google Maps push pin for Ann Arbor. It’s known as “the benches” in NB circles – for the sit-able amenities in Douglas Park. From there, the Nasty Boys will head off on a route and pace determined by mutual assent, but generally guided by NB member Tom Bourque.

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The view is to the south along the west side of Washtenaw Avenue. Nasty Boys Glee Club runners arrive at "the benches." Left in the frame (dark shorts, gray Ann Arbor Track Club T-shirt) is Mitch Garner. To his left is his former classmate, and a special guest on the run.

Bourque has maintained running logs for decades, including all of the Nasty Boys runs, which began in late 1996. Those logs reflect that for a year or maybe two, sometime around 2006-07, I joined them on several of their weekly Saturday morning runs. There’s also a Tuesday morning edition of the Nasty Boys run, but I never ran on a Tuesday.

While the Nasty Boys are a club, their membership seems fluid and flexible – non-regular runners who appear on Saturdays as friends, colleagues, or acquaintances of current members are welcomed to run along with the group, without a lot of hazing.

That held true on this Saturday morning – June 4, 2011 – when a former classmate of Nasty Boy Mitch Garner tagged along for the run.

Garner is known among the Nasty Boys as the “Iron Bulldog” – partly because Garner is a Yale University grad, and partly because he’s known as tough and tenacious himself. On Saturday, Bourque deferred to Garner on selection of the route – given that Garner had brought a guest.

So the group of a dozen or so runners headed west through the Burns Park neighborhood on a course for the University of Michigan athletic campus, completed a ceremonial lap around the track at Ferry Field, skirted the Crisler Arena renovations, crossed the East Stadium bridge, and then dove back into Burns Park. They wound up at Garner’s house, where he was serving brunch.

A group brunch is not part of the Nasty Boys Saturday morning routine. But when the men’s marathon gold medalist at the 1972 Olympic games joins you for a run, a break from the usual routine seems warranted. And that’s who Gardner’s guest was – Frank Shorter.

Shorter is in town to participate in this year’s 38th edition of the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run, hosted by the Ann Arbor Track Club. The Sunday, June 5 event includes 5K, 10K and half-marathon distances.

Celebrating the extraordinary is easy. Celebrating the routine and the ordinary – which is most of life – is more difficult. So I was envious of the Nasty Boys on Saturday, because I was not able to run alongside a legend like Frank Shorter. But I was also envious of Frank, because I was not able to join the Nasty Boys in their routine, regular run.

I did take some photos. [Full Story]