The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Neighborhoods it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Memorial Day: A Different List This Year Mon, 26 May 2014 19:24:27 +0000 Dave Askins The 2014 edition of the annual Glacier Highlands Neighborhood Association Memorial Day parade resembled the parades of previous years in almost every way.

Capt. Brian Cech read aloud a list of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who died this past year – even if not in combat.

Capt. Brian Cech read aloud a list of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who died this past year in non-combat incidents.

The parade itself – which winds through a northeastern Ann Arbor neighborhood – featured a squad car from the Ann Arbor police department, a fire truck, a bagpiper, several candidates for local political office, the drum line from Huron High School marching band, and a herd of neighborhood kids bringing up the rear on their decorated bicycles.

The parade ended as it does every year at Glacier Highlands Park – where free donuts, and for-sale hotdogs are on offer. But the focus immediately after the parade is always on the memorial service: “Lay off the donuts until after the ceremony!” came an admonishment over the PA system this year.

The memorial service is not complicated. The colors are presented, a bagpiper pipes Amazing Grace, a trumpeter blows Taps, and the names of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who were killed in action over the last year are read aloud.

The ceremony was officiated by Capt. Brian Cech – commander of the 1776 Military Police Company out of Taylor, Mich. What was different this year was the lack of the customary list: No Michiganders were this year among those who fell in combat.

But Cech still read aloud a list of names – those Michigan citizens in uniform, who died of illness, accidents, or suicide in the past year. “As we have learned over time,” Cech said, “the toll of the war zone does not stop after our warriors have returned home.”

Here’s the list that Cech read aloud:

  • Sgt. Maj. Eric C. Post
  • Sgt. Thomas E. Radosevich
  • Spc. Richard A. Bloomquist
  • Sgt. Renita C. Stevens
  • PV2 Brian J. Whitaker
  • Sgt. Christopher T. Shenk
  • Sgt. Robert M. Nanni
  • Sgt. Desmond E. Davis
  • Master Sgt. William R. Madden
  • Staff Sgt. Patrick W. Wisniewski
  • Hospital Corpsman Andrew Shipper

That might not be a complete list of all those in Michigan who wore the uniform and passed away during the last year. That’s according to Lt. Col. Kevin Bohnsack, who spoke with The Chronicle before the parade about preparing for the ceremony. Bohnsack, who lives about a block off the parade route, described how neighborhood resident Stephen Landes had previously prepared the name list – but Landes had passed away during the last year. And Landes’ methodology was not known. So Bohnsack had done the best he could.

Bohnsack had researched the background for some of those on the list, highlighting Davis, who died of ALS at age 41, and Nanni, who died in a car accident at age 29. Davis earned a Purple Heart and three bronze starts among other distinctions for his service in Iraq. Nanni earned a bronze star during his service over multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Walking along neighborhood streets with The Chronicle to the parade entrant staging area, Bohnsack pointed out an additional resource for information about the parade: “Ingrid, up there, she knows what’s going on.” It turns out that Bohnsack knew “Ingrid” as one of the parade organizers, not as Ingrid Sheldon the former mayor of Ann Arbor. Apprised of that fact, he allowed that politicians have a place in the parade, because that is “also a part of our democracy.”

But for his part, Bohnsack focused on the non-political aspect of the parade, stressing that as a member of the military, you swear to obey orders from the commander-in-chief, whoever that might be at the time. He’d spent some of his morning policing the placement of campaign signs in the park – so that they were confined to a designated area.

Here are a few highlights from this year’s parade.

Lt. Col. Kevin Bohnsack and Capt. Brian Cech represented the military in the parade.

Lt. Col. Kevin Bohnsack, left, and Capt. Brian Cech represented the military in the parade.

Bob Droppleman piped Amazing Grace for the memorial service.

Bob Droppleman piped Amazing Grace for the memorial service.

Lorna Barron, who plays trumpet in the Huron High School band, performed Taps.

Lorna Barron, who plays trumpet in the Huron High School band, performed Taps.

The Huron High School drumline marched in the parade.

The Huron High School drumline marched in the parade.

Leslie Science and Nature Center staffers Francie Krawcke and Sarah Gilmore brought a few of the birds from the center s raptor program, including this bald eagle.

Leslie Science and Nature Center staffers Francie Krawcke and Sarah Gilmore brought a few of the birds from the center’s raptor program, including this bald eagle.

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of this community’s parade of civic affairs. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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In the Archives: Dynamite Baseball Catcher Wed, 29 Jan 2014 17:37:58 +0000 Laura Bien 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.

Baseball at University of Michigan

In March of 1882 Moses transferred to the University of Michigan to study law. He was accompanied by his wife of four years, Arabella. Moses joined the university’s baseball team, the first varsity sport to be organized on campus. UM baseball operated without a coach from its inception in 1865 until 1890. The sport also operated without oversight by or funds from an as-yet-nonexistent Athletics Department; the first athletics director, Charles Baird, wasn’t installed until 1898. The team had to pay for its own equipment and travel with money begged from fellow students – receipts were often meager.

Financial challenges were plain in 1882 when the UM team planned to play a distant rival. “A more than sufficient sum of money had been pledged for the use of the nine [team members],” wrote the June 24 issue of the UM student paper The Chronicle, “and we supposed that at least $125 could be raised . . . [w]hat was the surprise and disgust of the committee when it was found that the largest amount that could be raised was about $35.” The disappointed team stayed in Ann Arbor.

The team listing as printed in the UM Palladium.

The team listing as printed in the UM Palladium.

But The Chronicle took note of Walker’s performances. “Walker played a brilliant game,” reported one article, “catching without a passed ball, making five runs, and two base hits, besides three singles. The game was witnessed by a large crowd . . .” In the fall of 1882, The Chronicle predicted a strong season: “Dott, Fleet Walker, Packard, Bumps, Hawley, Davis, Allmendinger, are all back and alive to the necessity of keeping up our ball spirit,” reported the Oct. 21, 1882 paper. “Then we have had added to the list Weld[a]y Walker, a magnificent fielder, safe batter, and phenomenal base runner…” Moses’ younger brother had followed him to Michigan and had joined the team.

Other campus papers praised Moses’ performance, and bemoaned the team’s financial struggles. As if anticipating Walker’s incipient departure, the May 5, 1883 Argonaut wrote, “Montgomery as catcher is a worthy successor to Fleet Walker . . . the baseball committee hopes to get through the season without circulating the deadly subscription paper.”

Despite the accolades, by the fall of 1883 Moses had moved on. “Walker of base-ball notoriety is not back this year,” the Oct. 10, 1883 Chronicle informed its readers. Moses had signed with the minor-league Toledo Blue Stockings. The Blue Stockings soon joined the American Association, a two-year-old professional major league formed to compete against the existing National League. Nicknamed the “Beer and Whiskey League” because it served alcohol at games, the American Association was regarded as boorish by its more staid nemesis league. In addition to the Blue Stockings, American Association members included the Washington Senators, the Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers, the Cleveland Spiders, and several surviving teams that include the Cincinnati Red Stockings (Reds), the St. Louis Brown Stockings (Cardinals), and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

By all accounts Moses had played good baseball on campus and earned the respect of his fellow students. He ruined his debut professional performance, however, by flubbing four at-bats and committing four errors. His performance may reflect the possible reception he received from an audience who had never seen a black baseball player. Reactions from his new teammates were mixed, ranging from racism to friendship. As he would throughout his life in a variety of situations, Moses persevered.

During the summer, Moses’ brother Welday also played with the Blue Stockings. Moses was injured during a game, and on Sept. 4, 1884, he played his last game with the team. Though Moses was a pioneer in integrating major league baseball, his Blue Stockings number was never retired – or even recorded, as uniforms of this era generally didn’t have numbers.

UM students had not forgotten Moses, and hopes rekindled that he would return. “[T]here is good reason to believe too that the nine is to be strengthened this year by the return of Fleet Walker,” noted the Oct. 4, 1884 Michigan Argonaut. If nothing else, at least the team finally had some cash. “It is especially gratifying to note that the base ball association stands on a sound financial basis. We are assured that there are fifty dollars in the treasury and no debts outstanding.”

Recovered from his injury, Moses entered the minor leagues and played for teams in Cleveland, Syracuse, and Waterbury, Connecticut. As he worked to advance himself and develop his talent, his ambitions were countered by a worsening national racial climate.

Race Relations

In 1866, when Moses was just 10 years old, Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act. It countered the post-Civil War “Black Codes” that Southern states had enacted to limit the rights of newly free black citizens. The Act was strengthened in 1868 and 1870 by the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments. Taken together, these actions sought to ensure federal protection of the rights of all male citizens, black and white, to make contracts, have and transfer property, vote, file lawsuits, and enjoy equal protection of the law.

Legal challenges, however, exploited overlooked loopholes and began to erode federal power, returning control to the states in defining and often limiting black citizens’ civil rights. By 1896, the Supreme Court’s Plessy vs. Ferguson decision allowed for a broad definition of “separate but equal” accommodations that served to enable discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws.

Before this tumultuous era culminated in Plessy vs. Ferguson, Moses had been let go from the Syracuse Stars. The minor-league International League banned the hiring of new black players. The American Association and the National League agreed sub rosa to exclude black players. The racial barrier would last until after World War II.

Patents: Dynamite Artillery Shells, Movie Projectors

Moses returned to Ohio and purchased a hotel in Steubenville and a theater for showing films and hosting live events in nearby Cadiz. He worked as a postal clerk, and at one point was accused of embezzling money. Moses managed his properties and with his younger brother published a short-lived newspaper. Arabella died in 1895, leaving three children: Cleatho, Thomas, and George. Three years after Arabella’s death, Moses married Ednah Jane Mason.

Before he lost his first wife, Moses filed for and received the first of his four patents. In 1891 he patented a refinement for a dynamite-loaded artillery shell.

Moses tweaked the dynamite bomb.

Moses tweaked the dynamite bomb.

Dynamite guns were a makeshift late-19th-century transitional technology. For most of the 19th century, black powder was the only explosive substance available. When dynamite was patented in 1867, it offered far more destructive power. Inventors scrambled to adapt this technology for military use.

One slight problem with this plan was that dynamite’s explosive force is activated not with a fiery fuse, but with percussion. The shock wave of the firing gun could explode the dynamite-loaded shell while it was still in the gun barrel. Moses designed an artillery shell that contained a suspended piston filled with dynamite. The piston was cushioned by air as the shell was fired from the barrel, to explode on impact with the target. Theodore Roosevelt experimented with dynamite guns; he and his Rough Riders found the machinery too fussy. Superior technology soon made these ingenious yet terrifying armaments obsolete.

Moses had other, less destructive ideas to patent. In 1918, he filed three patents for improvements to movie projectors. His experience with his theater’s film projectors had shown him shortcomings in projector technology. He was granted patents on projector improvements that made it easier to secure film to its metal reel and to tell when one roll of film was near its end.

Moses commissioned a metal-stamping company to make his improved reels, but never turned his creation into a business.

Thoughts on Race

Moses did, however, turn his reflections on race relations into a 47-page 1908 book: “Our Home Colony, a Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America.” His book concluded that the white and black races cannot live harmoniously in the United States. Black Americans, he advised, should shun the de facto American caste system and establish a new settlement in Africa.

“What Negro parent,” wrote Walker in his treatise, “can have the audacity to hold up before his beloved son the possibility of him ever becoming President of the United States?”

Moses’ wife Ednah died in 1920. Two years later he retired. Moses passed away on May 11, 1924.

His still-extant hometown paper, the Steubenville Herald-Star, gave him a lengthy obituary and placed his listing first. The obituary highlighted his career in baseball, detailed his varied occupations thereafter, and expressed community respect. It concluded, “He was a very interesting man to meet in conversation and he had many friends here who will regret to hear of his death.”

Moses Fleetwood Walker is buried in Steubenville’s Union Cemetery.

Mystery Artifact

Mystery Object

Mystery Object

The mystery artifact from the last column is a collection of objects that may be viewed in the current iteration of the Yankee Air Museum. Within the current exhibit hall, there’s a display case that contains sample soldiers’ field rations from several wars. The collection pictured here represents field rations for WWII soldiers, or, “K rations.”

Jim Rees and Cosmonican guessed correctly; congratulations!

Today for your consideration is a rather large Mystery Artifact that’s appropriate for the season.

It’s heavy and a little wobbly when it’s set on a table. It’s in quite nice condition, though, with no evident chips or scratches. What might this odd thing be? Take your guess and good luck!

Laura Bien is the author of “Hidden Ypsilanti” and “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Contact Laura at

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to help remind readers of those who’ve been forgotten. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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In the Archives: Woodlawn Cemetery Fri, 01 Nov 2013 16:29:38 +0000 Laura Bien 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.

The land where Frierson lies was purchased in 1945 by local Second Baptist Church pastor Garther Roberson Sr. [and Rhonenee]. The location “was convenient and close to the main road,” recalls Roberson’s son Garther Roberson Jr., current pastor of Ypsilanti’s Mount Olive Church, in a personal phone call. The site lay near Second Baptist and Ypsilanti’s south side, where for at least the first half of the 20th century black citizens of Ypsilanti were redlined.

Oral histories collected by distinguished onetime Ypsilanti historian A. P. Marshall offer many examples of racist restrictions placed upon black Ypsilantians. Job prospects for blacks were largely limited to menial labor, as decades of Ypsilanti census forms attest. “When we were growing up,” said Garther Roberson Jr. in an oral interview he gave in 1981, “it was understood that a store would not hire black people to be cashiers, salespersons, or managers.” Many male black residents tried to earn money as day laborers or factory workers.

Often families, especially if new in town, lived several to a South Side home, another reality visible on old census forms. Ypsi banks would not give mortgages or even home improvement loans to black residents, a fact mentioned by Roberson in his oral interview and in those of other black residents. This financial bottleneck continued well into the 1950s. Ypsilanti also had more than one explicitly whites-only subdivision. The 1941 deed to the College Heights subdivision, for example, stipulates that “No person of any race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any premise . . .”

Several oral histories in the Marshall collection attest to Garther Roberson Sr.’s strong influence in obtaining jobs for black residents and working with white and black Ypsilantians to improve the community. Part of this effort was his purchase of Woodlawn, so as to offer black residents, as his son told the author, “a place where people of color could have a decent and dignified burial.”

The records of Woodlawn interments were lost in a fire years ago. After the 1955 death of Garther Roberson Sr., whose grave marker lies at the site’s center, the cemetery association he formed went bankrupt. In 1970, an inspector from the State Cemetery Commission, who was investigating reported neglect, estimated that Woodlawn contained 150 graves. In 1981, three members of the Genealogical Society of Washtenaw County, Kenneth Coe, Martha Kacanek, and Karen Walker, conducted a cemetery reading. They recorded 76 names. As of mid-October of 2013, various other grave readers’ 2007-2013 contributions to the Woodlawn section of totaled 29 visible graves. When my husband and I visited in late October of 2013, we found only 21.

Among the holdings of the National Archives are the original forms used to request a military grave marker for a deceased veteran. The collection includes 14 marker requests for black veterans buried at Woodlawn (the National Archives acknowledges that its records are not complete; there may have been more requests). Of these 14 markers, eight were seen by the genealogical group in 1981. Four of those eight are visible today. As the stones continue to disappear, it is worth remembering the veterans for whom the markers were requested.

Seaman recruit Maurice Marshall enlisted in the Navy July 16, 1952. He was honorably discharged from his service during the Korean War on November 9, 1955. His wife Florence survived his death in 1962. Another Korean War soldier, Army Private First Class Paul Davis, served from November 1951 to August 1953. (Garther Roberson Jr. is also a Korean War veteran).

Among the cemetery’s WWII vets, Private Haywood Brown, Jr. served at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. A few months after he enlisted, the last class of black pilots graduated and the base was deactivated the following summer. Though Brown could not become a pilot, even serving at the Tuskegee air base is today regarded as so prestigious for its era that there is a special term for anyone who served on the base, pilot or no: DOTA, or “documented original Tuskegee airman.”

Private Marion Frierson also served in the Army Air Force, the WWII-era direct predecessor of the modern Air Force. He served for two years on an airbase in Marianna, Florida.

Marion Frierson's widow Annie sent this form in 1960 to request a grave marker for her husband

Marion Frierson’s widow Annie sent this form in 1960 to request a grave marker for her husband

Private First Class David Atkins served in the 25th Chemical Decontamination Company. After two years of service at this dangerous work, he died in 1949 at Walter Reed Hospital.

Private First Class Bennie Cartwright and Private Paul McCarter both worked for quartermaster supply companies in Mississippi and Alabama respectively, which were Army units that provided food and supplies to soldiers. Cartwright received a Good Conduct medal.

Private First Class Ulysses Webb was also stationed stateside, in Missouri. So was Private First Class Fred Carter, who served as a truck driver in North Carolina. Black soldiers were disproportionately assigned to stateside service for the first part of WWII due to a prevailing misconception that they were not as capable of standing the rigors of combat. Because of this stateside bias, fewer black soldiers had a chance of earning many medals.

Staff Sergeant Paul Cunningham did travel overseas – but was relegated to a laundry corps. Nevertheless, he was honorably discharged with a good conduct medal, a World War II Victory medal, one medal whose acronym defied this author’s research, and a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with 5 Bronze Stars indicating participation in five overseas campaigns. The Victory medal and the EAME relate to time of service, but the good conduct medal is one of merit, and it should be further noted that many black soldiers who did fulfill the terms of time-of-service medals still never received them after the war.

The oldest military graves in the cemetery belong to WWI vets. Private Lander Bennett served in a Kentucky quartermaster corps; his widow survived him and requested the grave marker. Corporal George Thomas served in a motor pool at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Private Cleo Cummings served in the 157th Depot Brigade in Alabama. Private William Brooks was stationed at Michigan’s Fort Custer in the 160th Depot Brigade. Even in an era that saw a deterioration of the treatment of black Americans and the second rise of the KKK – which included local mass “klanvocations” in Flint, Jackson, and a proposal for one in Ypsi – Brooks was so intent on joining the Army that he added a year to his birthdate on his enlistment form so as to meet, barely, the age requirement.

Bennett’s and Brooks’ Armistice Day occurred almost one century ago. Now called Veteran’s Day, the commemorative holiday on November 11 is a fitting time to remember those who responded to discrimination, the threat of violence, and grave disservice – with service.

Mystery Artifact

Last column three readers correctly guessed that the item in question was a shoemaker’s last, or form: Rebecca, Jim Rees, and cmadler.

Mystery Artifact

Mystery Artifact

Jim commented that the iron last looked exceptionally small, noting “a woman’s shoe with a 7.5-inch last would be a size 1.5.”Perhaps it was a last for making children’s shoes.

This time we have artifact with several component parts.

This artifact may be seen somewhere in Washtenaw County within an interesting display, but where? Take your best guess and good luck!

Laura Bien is the author of “Hidden Ypsilanti” and “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Contact Laura at

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to help remind readers of those who’ve been forgotten. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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In the Archives: The Friendless Dead Tue, 01 Oct 2013 17:48:37 +0000 Laura Bien 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.

The medical school as depicted in Andrew McLaughlin s 1891 book, The History of Higher Education in Michigan. The left side of the building is facing East University Ave.

The medical school as depicted in Andrew McLaughlin’s 1891 book “The History of Higher Education in Michigan.” The left side of the building is facing East University Ave.

A similar proviso had entered Michigan law as early as 1867, as “an act to authorize dissection in certain cases, for the advancement of science.” It allowed that local officials could donate the bodies of deceased prisoners or “such persons as are required to be buried at the public expense . . . preference being always given to the faculty of the medical department of the University of Michigan … ” This proviso was cancelled if the dying person requested a burial or if a relative or friend claimed the body within 24 hours.

Despite the law, and two slightly-altered reiterations of it in the 1870s, the public’s general distaste for dissection, in lieu of a decent and Christian burial, led many to claim to be a “friend” of a friendless person, and recover the stranger’s body for burial.

This helped cause a chronic shortage of anatomical specimens at UM, leading to the university’s well-known under-the-table dealings with shady “resurrectionists” in order to obtain bodies. These deals were performed out of necessity and far less cavalierly than is often sensationally portrayed in histories of the medical school.

The university’s ties to grave-robbers were known in the 19th century, and social censure weighed upon those in the anatomy department. In 1880, the “Demonstrator of Anatomy” in charge of procuring bodies was William Herdman. He complained at a June 28, 1880 UM regents meeting.

Herdman spoke regarding the “recent and remote instances of grave-robbing which have come to your attention and to the notice of the public … which have justly excited indignation on the part of all law-abiding citizens and have been the cause of great annoyances to all friends of the University and especially to you, [the regents] … ”

Herdman asked the regents to consider the difficulty of his responsibility to obtain 90 to 100 anatomical specimens per year for the medical school. His method, he told them, was to exhaust all legal means of obtaining bodies first, and when in special need, “to draw from the pauper and friendless dead at our county-houses and asylums with the consent of the proper authorities if such consent could be obtained … [i]s it therefore asking too much that [the pauper's] body, unclaimed by friends, cared for by none, useless to himself, be made to contribute to the welfare of his fellows who have given freely of their substance to provide for him in comfort and health during his natural life?”

The December 1878 UM student-produced magazine the Palladium included a comic strip satirizing Herdman and his helper Naegle. The strip references a 1878 incident in which the body of one Augustus Devins, buried in Ohio, mysteriously surfaced in the basement of the medical school. The two gentlemen at left are out-of-state officials seeking the corpse of Devin.

The December 1878 UM student-produced magazine the Palladium included a comic strip satirizing William Herdman and his helper Patrick Naegle. The strip references a 1878 incident in which the body of one Augustus Devins, buried in Ohio, mysteriously surfaced in the basement of the medical school. The two gentlemen at left are out-of-state officials seeking Devins’ corpse.

“Though not strictly legal, I have endeavored … to secure this pauper material from different parts of our own state for dissection,” said Herdman. “You know full well the character of many of the men we are compelled to employ in this clandestine business.”

Herdman’s unsavory task was made easier by the 1881 law. The original 1867 act had mentioned only prisons as possible sources of specimens, with an additional vague reference to those in the community who died without financial resources. But the 1881 act built upon 1870s amendments to clearly specify that the deceased in poorhouses, workhouses, jails, or any charity supported by public funds could legally be sent to the UM. The UM would be in charge of distributing the bodies equally among three schools: the UM, the Detroit Medical College, and Detroit’s Michigan College of Medicine.

One of the 1881 law’s requirements was that detailed records be kept of each body donation. The ledger that lists, in a graceful and careful hand that is likely Herdman’s, the 1881 donations to the University has survived to the present. It shows that 108 bodies were donated to UM in 1881 from poorhouses throughout the southern half of the lower peninsula. The greatest number came from Wayne County, which had a poorhouse, prison, and insane asylum. The furthest came from Big Rapids in Mecosta County, about 130 miles as the crow flies.

No bodies came from north of a horizontal line extending from Bay City westward to Big Rapids. Few poorhouses existed [map] in the less-populated northern lower peninsula, with only 3 in the U.P. In addition, the enforced waiting time for body identification plus time spent packing and shipping the deceased by train brought into play sanitary considerations.

Willie Brown was the first recorded donor, in August of 1881, from the Washtenaw County poorhouse. Over the remainder of that year, five more bodies from the county poorhouse made the journey up Washtenaw – those of 38-year-old Stephen Pomare, 58-year-old Wesley Freer, 49-year-old Edward Cresson, 38-year-old Charles Williams, and 25-year-old Pat Monahan.

The afflictions that killed these five men were sunstroke for Pomare and Freer, tuberculosis for Monahan and Cresson, and a fistula for Williams. The men were relatively young, but mortality rates at the poorhouse were over 10 times higher than in Washtenaw County as a whole. In 1880, the county had 41,779 citizens with an additional 66 (at census time) in the poorhouse. The county suffered 496 deaths that year, or just over 1% of its population; the poorhouse saw 9 deaths, or 14% of its group.

Some county residents lost their livelihood due to illness, and entered the poorhouse with a pre-existing condition. In addition, 1880s-era Michigan poorhouses were by and large unhealthy environments. Many consisted of poorly-repurposed farmhouses or hotels and the majority lacked bathing facilities. Crowding of inmates, some with then-poorly-understood communicable diseases, was common. The general atmosphere could be disturbing or depressing as well, as those with physical and those with psychological disorders were often housed together. Sufferers of mental disorders were in some places treated gently and humanely and involved in activities, and in other locations, or in severe cases, were confined in locked cells. In one Ingham County case, state inspectors found a mentally ill resident chained to an outdoor fence.

Found a man of about 24, idiotic, said to be inclined to escape, and so tied, without shelter, to a fence near the house, where he had worn a path at the end of his rope, like a chained animal. The effect upon other inmates, of constant exhibition of a human being in this condition, chained like a bear to the fence, must be to degrade and brutalize. Upon suggestions made to the superintendents to the poor, he will, no doubt, be differently cared for hereafter. [Biennial report by the Michigan State Board of Corrections and Charities, 1881-82.]

Washtenaw’s poorhouse was one of the state’s best. It offered bathing facilities with a requirement to bathe once a week, adequate clothing year-round, a Protestant and a Catholic chapel (any chapel was a rarity among poorhouses of the era), and a varied diet, much of it drawn from the 119-acre poorhouse farm. Some inmates helped slop the 11 pigs, feed the 80 chickens, and milk the farm’s 8 milch cows. They picked peaches and apples, and tended the wheat, oats, and Indian corn. The farm sold many of these products, helping offset the weekly average maintenance cost of $1.25 (about $30 in today’s dollars) per resident.

The original poorhouse building and farm are long gone. The cemetery remains unmarked and is at least partially covered by Washtenaw Avenue. The residents’ names are largely forgotten. The final contribution of some of these weakest and humblest of onetime county residents helped to strengthen and make prominent the name of the University of Michigan.

One small part of that luster is due to a 22-year-old farmhand, someone’s son, who thought, dreamed, laughed, and worked the fields over 130 years ago.

Mystery Artifact

The last column’s Mystery Artifact featured a floating barrel meant for a carp pond.

Mystery Object

Mystery Object

The device was, as Tim Durham correctly guessed, meant to be a beaver trap, meant to safeguard one’s home-made dams. Great guess, Tim!

This time we come closer to home with an artifact one could easily have found in the olden days in Ann Arbor. It’s an odd little shape from an almost completely vanished trade. It also has a forgotten and specific name – who knows it?

Last time Tim was the last to guess, but the first to identify the beaver trap; sometimes a guess that’s last is correct! Good luck!

Laura Bien is the author of “Hidden Ypsilanti” and “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Contact Laura at

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to keep readers up to date on the quick and the dead. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.


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In the Archives: Last Train to Carp-ville Wed, 01 May 2013 16:39:00 +0000 Laura Bien 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.

Poppe sold carp for food and for breeding to his neighbors as well as to Honolulu and Central America. News of his successful venture spread.

U.S. Fish Commission

The U.S. Fish Commission had been created the previous year in order to investigate “the causes of decrease in the supply of useful food-fishes of the United States, and of the various factors entering into the problem; and the determination and employment of such active measures as may seem best calculated to stock or restock the waters of the rivers, lakes and the sea.”

In the commission’s 1872-73 report, commissioner Spencer Baird noted:

 Sufficient attention has not been paid in the United States to the introduction of the European carp as a food fish, and yet it is quite safe to say that there is no other species that promises so great a return in limited waters. It has the pre-eminent advantage over such fish as the black bass, trout, grayling, &c., that it is a vegetable feeder, and, although not disdaining animal matters, can thrive very well on aquatic vegetation alone. On this account it can be kept in tanks, small ponds, &c., and a very much larger weight obtained, without expense, than in the case of the other kinds indicated. It is on this account that its culture has been continued for centuries. It is also a mistake to compare the flesh with that of the ordinary cyprinidae of the United States, such as suckers, chubs, and the like, the flesh of the genuine carp (Cyprinus carpio) being firm, flaky, and in some varieties almost equal to the European trout.

The “genuine” carp encompassed three varieties: the mirror carp, the leather carp, and most commonly, the German carp. The federal fish commission imported carp from Germany in 1877. Some were placed in Baltimore ponds, and others in the Babcock Lakes, a series of ponds adjoining the Washington Monument before the creation of the National Mall. In 1879, over 12,000 federal carp were taken from both sites and distributed to various states and territories, likely including Michigan.

In subsequent reports Baird listed the admirable qualities of carp: they were fecund, hardy, adaptable, and had rapid growth. Carp also showed a “harmlessness in its relation to other fishes,” the “ability to populate waters to their greatest extent,” and “good table qualities.”

By 1870, Michigan fish populations had declined as a result of overfishing, dam construction, pollution, and such habitat destruction as that caused by the timber industry. The waterborne transport of thousands of logs often scarred and eroded riverbanks, Sawmill sawdust dumped into waterways could blanket and choke a fish feeding or breeding ground.

Michigan Board of Fish Commissioners

The Michigan Board of Fish Commissioners formed in the spring of 1873. It did not have regulatory power. The Board could not compel commercial fishermen on Lake Michigan to stop decreasing the size of the holes in their nets, a strategy that led to the capture of immature whitefish before they could breed. The Board could not change timber industry practices. Its strategy was to hatch and distribute fish – those used for food – to replenish depleted populations and introduce new varieties thought beneficial.

The Board opened the state’s first hatchery in Pokagon, Cass County, in 1873. The following year, the hatchery produced whitefish, Atlantic salmon, king salmon, and carp. Aside from restocking commercial fishing areas in the Great Lakes – most notably the lucrative whitefish fishing grounds – the Board also offered shipments of young fish to farmers around the state. Originally the shipments were made in ordinary milk cans loaded on trains.

Railroading Carp

In 1888 the Board secured a specialized railroad car, the Attikumaig (an Ojibwe word meaning “whitefish.”) It combined space to transport fish, five sleeping berths for the men looking after them, a kitchen, and an office. The car traveled between 20 and 30,000 miles per year between February and July, distributing trout, whitefish, black bass, pike, and carp. It was eventually rebuilt and renamed the Fontinalis. Another fish car, the Wolverine, was built in 1913; a replica can be seen at the Oden fish hatchery in Alanson, Emmet county.

Carp were on the Attikumaig for a reason. “Several marked advantages are claimed for the German carp for profitable cultivation,” noted A December, 1880 issue of the Marshall Daily Chronicle. The article continued:

Any kind of a pond, no matter how restricted, can be used. Difficulties of temperature or purity of water are scarcely factors in carp culture. Providing the water is not too cold, carp thrive rapidly. In fact, no natural water has yet been found too warm for them. Being vegetable feeders, carp thrive on plants growing in the water, or may be given offal, like pigs, or boiled grain, like chickens. A large pond may be dug on arable land, allowed to grow carp for two or three years, the fish marketed and the ground brought under cultivation again.

In the same month and year the Kalamazoo Telegraph chimed in. “The farmers of Michigan should prepare ponds for the German carp which the fish commission is introducing into this country. It is one of the most prolific of fishes and among the best that can be supplied to the table.”

The table was a big one at the 1887 annual dinner of the American Carp Culture Association, based in Philadelphia. The group’s secretary noted:

 “The caterer carried out our instructions to the letter, and the result was that a select party of acknowledged epicures not only tasted but ate several pounds of carp without condiments or seasoning of any description whatever. The verdict seemed to be unanimous that carp raised and treated according to the system prevailing in this region is a first-class food fish … their flavor will be second only to the salmon family, certainly fully equal to the far-famed shad …

Perhaps the most enthusiastic carp-booster was Alliance, Ohio editor and publisher Lambelis Logan (he preferred the abbreviation “L. B. Logan.”) Logan was editor of the monthly magazine “American Carp Culture,” published from 1884 to 1888. Chapter 3 of Logan’s 1888 book “Practical Carp Culture” was titled “The Economic, Philosophic, Patriotic, and Sanitary Reasons for Carp Culture.” The chapter trails off before probing the connection between patriotism and carp, but it does extol the benefits of having a farm pond.

American Carp Culture

Ohio editor Lambelis Logan was a driving force behind the monthly magazine “American Carp Culture.”

Aside from raising carp, “water farming,” wrote Logan, provides beneficial vapors that “will moisten and purify the air, destroy disease germs and contribute to better health.” The pond supplies emergency water during a drought, he added, gives beauty to the farm, and provides a place to bathe, to ice-skate, and to harvest ice for the ice-house.

Logan went on to detail the multiple-pond system used in European carp culture, including the hatching pond, the stock pond for older carp, and the market pond for mature fish. A series of carp ponds was a feature, for example, of a Cisterian Catholic monastery, founded in 1186, in Reinfeld, a German town in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. The Reinfeld town crest displays a carp to this day. Though the abbey was destroyed in the sixteenth century, the carp-ponds once tended by monks are still visible.

Reinfeld was the town that Julius Poppe had visited in 1872. He procured his fish from a town miller and carp culturist. Poppe had left Sonoma on May 3, 1872, traveled through the Panama Canal to New York, and crossed the Atlantic twice and the entire American continent once on an expensive three-month journey. He had faith in German-raised carp. Europe had had centuries to refine the art of breeding and maintaining carp in a controlled series of ponds.

Reinfeld's coat of arms displays a silvery German carp

Reinfeld’s coat of arms displays a silvery German carp

Michigan farmers would have to learn on the fly.

“A method of systematic carp culture in a series of proportioned ponds as detailed in the preceding pages would be entirely too extensive and costly a luxury for beginners, as most farmers must be,” wrote Logan in “Practical Carp Culture.”  “… [In this case,] a single pond must answer all the purposes.”

Leon Cole agreed in his 1905 book “German Carp in the United States.” “With a few possible exceptions carp culture has never been attempted in this country after the lines which it is carried on so extensively in Germany,” he wrote. “[Most carp culturists] merely dumped the fish into any body of water that was convenient, or into any pond that could be hastily scraped out or constructed by damming some small stream, and thereafter left them to shift for themselves . . . “

Cole was a 1901 graduate of the University of Michigan. As a junior, he already worked for the school as a zoological assistant, living nearby at 703 Church Street. After receiving his bachelor’s, he stayed on at the university to conduct zoological research, some involving carp that he maintained in an aquarium. Cole later received his doctorate from Harvard and became a zoologist and professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin.

Carp Falls out of Favor

By the time Cole graduated, carp had already fallen out of favor in Michigan. Their habit of eating by slurping up tidbits on the bottom of a river or pond and spitting out detritus made the water turbid. Such native predator fish as the pike had difficulty seeing prey through haze. In feeding, carp dislodged or damaged aquatic vegetation, a food source for some waterfowl and shelter for other fishes. They could cause riverbank erosion in scouring for food. Sportsmen suspected that they were crowding out more desirable fish. By the turn of the century, the carp’s reputation was in tatters.

The Jan. 1, 1897 Marshall Daily Chronicle said, “German carp are becoming more numerous in the Kalamazoo river each season, and it is feared that they will sooner or later drive out all other species of fish. There should be no restriction placed on their destruction. They bring but two cents a pound in the market.”

“Some years ago the cries went up all over Michigan that the German carp be planted in our rivers,” wrote the August 24, 1899 Benton Harbor Daily Palladium. “Now that we have them the lovers of game fish are wishing they could be exterminated, for it is said that they are destroying the spawn of our best river fish, and that they themselves are scarcely fit to eat. Carp are depopulating the Kalamazoo River of its best fish.”

In “German Carp in the United States,” Cole summarized possible reasons why carp culture had failed. People had rushed into the venture without knowledge of the procedures involved. They ate carp during the spring spawning season, when the flesh was of poor quality. It was cooked incorrectly, without the European techniques that rendered it palatable. Finally, escaped carp became so numerous in waterways that it wasn’t necessary to maintain a private pond.

Carp Compared to Sturgeon

The story of carp in Michigan is roughly a mirror image of the history of Michigan sturgeon. The sturgeon is indigenous; the carp is invasive. The sturgeon needs many years to mature before breeding; the carp is fertile at a young age. The sturgeon was originally regarded as a trash fish and later as extremely valuable due to its eggs, made into caviar. The carp arrived in this country lauded by government fish experts and is now considered a trash fish.

The sturgeon’s decline and the carp’s ascent crossed paths in the 1880s. The 1887-88 Michigan Fish Commission report notes that there is “an increasing demand for carp” – there were 3,485 applicants for state hatchery carp in 1886 alone. In addition, between 1880 and 1890, over 50,000 federal carp had been planted in Michigan waters. The state report also noted “one of the most valuable fish is the worthless sturgeon of a few years ago, and so assiduously is it sought for that the supply will become exhausted in a very short time …”

Not so the carp. As a speaker at the 1901 meeting of the American Fisheries Society said, “We hear a great deal from sportsmen’s clubs and from other sources as to how the carp can be exterminated. It cannot be exterminated. It is like the English sparrow; it is here to stay.”

Mystery Artifact

In the last column, I stupidly neglected to obscure the patent number on the patent drawing of the mystery artifact.

Mystery Artifact

Mystery Artifact

Commenters (adept Internet-scourers all!) wrestled with the moral dilemma this posed, but proved honorable of course – no one spilled the beans!

That means I have the pleasure – it is was shepherd’s crook invented in 1884 by one Sumner D. Felt of Jackson, Michigan.

Because this column’s Mystery Artifact is about as obscure as a Mystery Artifact could be, I feel bound to drop a hint. This is something you could use in conjunction with the carp pond on your farm, in order to protect your investment. I look forward to your guesses!

Laura Bien is the author of “Hidden Ypsilanti” and “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Contact Laura at

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to keep readers up to date on historic aquapreneurian adventures. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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City Notifies Selma Cafe of Zoning Violation Sat, 13 Apr 2013 15:22:31 +0000 Mary Morgan 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.”

Selma Cafe: Background

Selma Cafe today still reflects its origins as a homegrown venture, started by Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe in their home on Soule Boulevard, just down the street from Eberwhite Elementary. The breakfasts are prepared and served by a staff of volunteers, often featuring chefs from local restaurants and using locally-produced food. Recent chefs have included Keegan Rodgers of the People’s Food Co-op, Peter Roumanis of Vellum Restaurant, Rebecca Wauldron of Busch’s, and others from The Beet Box at Mark’s Carts, EAT, Sweet Heather Anne Cakes, and Tantre Farm.

The effort started when the couple – now separated – hosted a fundraising dinner for the nonprofit Growing Hope about five years ago. Because the tickets for that event were fairly high, they decided to hold something more informal as well, and hosted a fundraising breakfast called Diner for a Day, featuring the filmmaker Chris Bedford. The event drew about 160 people – enough to indicate an interest in people willing to support the local food economy.

They decided to keep it going as long as there were volunteers to support it, and eventually grew their volunteer pool to more than 500 people. The breakfasts are held on Friday mornings from 6:30-9:30 a.m. Diners pay voluntary contributions for their meals, raising money for microloans to build hoop houses for local farms, as well as other local food-related activities. The Selma Cafe website cites a broader mission as well, describing it this way:

A hub, a center, a heart of the many ongoing efforts to improve our lives through community building, free access to affordable, healthy foods and the fostering of right-livelihood in vocations with meaning and purpose.

A celebration of seasonal, local ingredients from the abundance of what our region has to offer.

An inclusive community, building the next stage of our local-foods infrastructure founded on the principals of openness, transparency and joy. We seek your help in building the tools and organizational structure to maintain these foundational principles.

A source of funding for building new local-foods infrastructure through loans for hoop houses, affiliations with other community non-profits, and support for the Tilian Farm Development Center.

Money contributed at the cafe also supports Farmer Fund, which was created to administer the microloan program. According to the cafe’s website, University Bank originates and services those loans.

Selma Cafe has been warmly received by many in the community. For example, when Gottlieb and McCabe made a presentation to the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission’s Nov. 10, 2010 meeting, commissioner Dan Ezekiel praised their work and said he’d eaten there many times: “Your efforts and your activism are amazing.”

The breakfast salon is regularly featured in local, state and national publications and blogs. A recent example is from a March 25, 2013 post on

I was lucky enough to share a table at the [local economics] forum with Lisa Gottlieb, a social worker and founder of Selma Cafe – a community breakfast that benefits local, sustainable farming efforts. Lisa invited me to the Selma Cafe and I squeezed it in one morning. Though Lisa was on her way to work when I got there, I shared a meal and lots of interesting conversation with some remarkable people, including a man who volunteers part-time in Haiti doing healthcare and other friendly folks interested in the concept of Ann Arbor as a sharing town.

City Code Violations

The popularity of Selma Cafe has also led to complaints from some neighbors, even in its early days. As The Chronicle reported in July of 2009, an anonymous letter – signed from “an Eberwhite Elementary School parent” – raised concerns about various possible city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County code violations occurring at the home. The possible violations included operating a restaurant in a residential area without licensing and inspection. Those issues were resolved at the time to the satisfaction of city and county officials, but complaints have since re-emerged.

Specifically, the city’s planning staff have communicated with Gottlieb and local attorney Nick Roumel – a Selma volunteer and occasional chef – about complaints that the city has received. That culminated in a letter sent to Gottlieb on April 3 from planning manager Wendy Rampson. [.pdf of Rampson's letter] The letter references a discussion held with Gottlieb on March 11 that had raised the same issues that are outlined in the letter.

The letter states that home occupations are allowed in residential areas, but with certain restrictions. The city defines a home occupation in this way: “an accessory use of a nonresidential nature which is performed within a dwelling or within an accessory building, and conducted by members of the family residing in the dwelling and not more than one additional employee.”

The city contends that the operations of Selma Cafe – the weekly breakfasts as well as other activities that have been held there, including a happy hour and concerts – have violated Chapter 55 of the city code, in the section related to “use regulations” for home occupations. The relevant part of the code states:

(c) Home occupation, subject to the following performance standards:

  1. Total floor area devoted to the home occupation in the principal or accessory building shall not exceed 25% of the gross floor area of the dwelling.
  2. Outside appearance of premises shall have no visible evidence of the conduct of a home occupation.
  3. No outdoor display of goods or outside storage of equipment or materials used in the home occupation shall be permitted.
  4. No article or service shall be sold or offered for sale on the premises except those which are produced by such home occupation on the premises.
  5. The nature of the home occupation shall not generate more than 10 business-related vehicle trips in any 1 day in the vicinity of the home occupation, and any need for parking generated by the conduct of such home occupation shall be provided offstreet in accordance with the offstreet parking requirements.
  6. No equipment or process shall be used in such home occupation which creates noise, dust, vibration, glare, fumes, odors or electrical interference detectable to the normal senses beyond the property boundary.
  7. The following are typical examples of uses which often can be conducted within the limits of these restrictions and thereby qualify as home occupations. Uses which may qualify as “home occupations” are not limited to those named in this paragraph (nor does the listing of a use in this paragraph automatically qualify it as a home occupation); accountant, architect, artist, author, consultant, dressmaking, individual stringed instrument instruction, individual tutoring, millinery, preserving and home cooking.
  8. The following uses are not permitted as home occupations if conducted as a person’s principal occupation and the person’s dwelling is used as the principal place of business: vehicle repair or painting, dental office and medical office.

Selma Cafe violates the city’s Chapter 55 zoning code in three ways, according to Rampson: (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.

Rampson’s letter states:

To resolve this violation, you may discontinue your home occupation or make changes to bring it into compliance with the performance standards, which would substantially reduce the scale of the activity. Another way you may resolve the violation is to relocate these events to an appropriately-zoned location that allows for assembly use and/or a commercial kitchen.

I am in receipt of a letter from your attorney, Nicholas Roumel, and appreciate your interest in reducing the impact of SELMA Cafe’s activities on your neighbors. However, none of the methods suggested by Mr. Roumel to address the traffic and parking problem would bring the current operation into compliance with the ordinance, because traffic and parking is still being generated by the use, albeit in a more dispersed manner. I’d like to emphasize that the City has received numerous complaints from a variety of sources, including neighbors and parents of Eberwhite students, all of whom are concerned about the concentrated traffic and parking issues that result from SELMA Cafe’s operation.

Rampson asked for a response by Monday, April 15 that provides a schedule for discontinuing Selma Cafe or any other activity that doesn’t comply with the city’s home occupation standards.

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Gottlieb said she plans to hand-deliver her response to Rampson on Monday.

Lisa Gottlieb

Lisa Gottlieb, co-founder of the Selma Cafe, at the Nov. 10, 2010 meeting of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. (Chronicle file photo)

Gottlieb said she first heard about these complaints in early March, though she wasn’t contacted directly by the neighbors. She characterized them as a handful of people who were primarily upset about the traffic, parking and congestion, as well as with a happy hour that was held as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Growing Hope. She said she immediately stopped all activities at her home – other than Selma Cafe – as soon as she heard about the neighbors’ concerns. Those events had included the happy hour, yoga sessions, some concerts by local musicians, and a Balkan dance party.

Gottlieb said the changes to parking – urging people who attend Selma to park outside of the immediate neighborhood – has eliminated that problem. Based on exchanges on the neighborhood’s listserv, she said, the general view is that issues stemming from parking, traffic and congestion at Selma are resolved. And since the Selma traffic and parking problem has been eliminated, she said, it’s now clear that the neighborhood has a serious problem with parents speeding through the streets on their way to drop off or pick up children at Eberwhite Elementary. Regardless of what happens with Selma, Gottlieb said she plans to work on addressing that problem.

Regarding the other issues cited by the city, Gottlieb indicated that she and Roumel disagree with the city staff about interpreting the code. For example, she said, Selma Cafe isn’t a home business, so the “not more than one additional employee” standard doesn’t really apply, since everyone there is a volunteer – including her.

Gottlieb likened the current situation to one that involved concerns raised by Washtenaw County public health officials a few years ago. Selma Cafe is unique and new, she said, and doesn’t necessarily fit within the strict understanding of existing regulations. Whenever something new like this emerges, she said, “it often meets with resistance.”

Because of its uniqueness, she said, there aren’t a lot of places that can accommodate the weekly event. She’s actively looking for another place, and is pursuing two possible alternative locations. She hopes to continue conducting Selma Cafe at her home in the meantime, but she’s not sure how things will play out and it’s unclear whether the breakfasts can continue there.

When asked whether she intends to advocate for changes in zoning so that this kind of event would be allowed, Gottlieb said she didn’t see that as her role, and that she didn’t have the energy to spare for such an effort. However, she said, the idea of changing the zoning is “worth a really thoughtful conversation” with city officials.

Responding to a query from The Chronicle, Rampson indicated that until she receives Gottlieb’s response, it’s premature to speculate on any further actions the city might take.

Relationship with FSEP

Separately, the board of the nonprofit Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) has decided to terminate its relationship with Repasts Present & Future [Repasts/Selma] – the umbrella organization that operates Selma Cafe.

The original fiscal sponsor was Slow Food Huron Valley, a nonprofit that focuses on supporting local farmers and food artisans “who engage in sustainable agriculture and are committed to the viability of the land,” according to the SFHV website.

SFHV, a volunteer organization, got formally involved as a fiscal sponsor of Selma Cafe in 2009. SFHV’s participation was a way to address concerns raised by Washtenaw County public health officials that Selma Cafe was operating as a “food service establishment” but not complying with the 2005 U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s food code. Among other things, the code prohibits serving food to the public out of a home. The county had determined that if Repasts/Selma were a 501(c)3 nonprofit – or were affiliated with a nonprofit – then that would give them exemption from the definition of “food service establishment.”

As part of that sponsorship, Gottlieb joined SFHV’s leadership team and served as the nonprofit’s secretary. But the relationship lasted only about two years before SFHV transferred the sponsorship to FSEP in 2011. [Kim Bayer of SFHV is also on FSEP's board.] At that time, the bank balance was $12,799, according to documents related to the transfer. Those documents also indicated that in 2009 and 2010, Repasts/Selma had made loans to nine local farmers totaling about $62,800. The purpose of the loans – which ranged from $5,100 to $9,647 – was to build hoop houses. [.pdf of 2011 assets and liabilities]

Gottlieb said that SFHV had wanted more involvement with Selma Cafe than was realistic, including an expectation that Gottlieb would invest more of her own time attending SFHV leadership meetings. Given her full-time job and work organizing Selma Cafe, Gottlieb said it wasn’t possible to make more of a time commitment to SFHV. Gottlieb is a social worker for the Washtenaw County juvenile detention program.

Jennifer Fike, Ginny Trocchio, Food Systems Economic Partnership, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Jennifer Fike, finance manager of the Huron River Watershed Council, and Ginny Trocchio, who manages the city of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs. Trocchio also serves as chair of the board for the Food System Economic Partnership. Fike is FSEP’s former executive director. Fike attended the April 4, 2013 meeting of the greenbelt advisory commission, where this photo was taken, because of her interest in being appointed to the commission.

In April of 2011, FSEP took over as fiscal sponsor, with terms laid out in a detailed memorandum of understanding (MOU). [.pdf of April 2011 MOU] In a phone interview with The Chronicle, FSEP board chair Ginny Trocchio said the decision to get involved with Selma Cafe was based on FSEP’s mission – which is to support grassroots efforts related to the local food economy. Selma Cafe was a good fit in that regard, she said. FSEP did not provide financial support to Selma Cafe, but served as the “corporate home” for the group, and handled a range of fiduciary activities. Those activities included maintaining a bank account for Repasts/Selma and reporting Repasts/Selma’s financial information in FSEP’s tax documents.

In the spring of 2012, leaders of FSEP and Repasts/Selma could not come to agreement on terms for renewal of the MOU. Gottlieb told The Chronicle that FSEP wanted to add provisions that would allow FSEP to remove her as operations manager at any point, and that would give FSEP the right to distribute assets in the Repasts/Selma bank account, if the fiscal sponsorship were terminated. Gottlieb said those terms were unacceptable to her, and ultimately were deal-breakers for reaching a new agreement with FSEP.

In a letter dated June 11, 2012, Trocchio gave notice of the intent to terminate the MOU, and outlined a transition period during which Repasts/Selma would need to find an alternative fiscal sponsor or obtain its own 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Although Repasts/Selma is in the process of seeking a 501(c)3 designation, that designation has not yet been secured.

Trocchio told The Chronicle that over the last few weeks, FSEP’s board became aware of certain issues – including the city’s notification of zoning violations – which prompted the board vote to end its fiscal sponsorship. FSEP notified Gottlieb in late March about its decision, and has given Repasts/Selma until May 31 to find another fiscal sponsor. Assets in the Repasts/Selma bank account – over $40,000, according to Trocchio – will not be released to Repasts/Selma until another fiscal sponsor is identified or until nonprofit status is secured. At that point, the assets will be transferred to the new fiscal sponsor, Trocchio said.

On Friday, March 29, FSEP posted this statement on its website:

By decision of the board of directors, as of March 27, 2013 the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) will no longer be acting as a non-profit fiscal sponsor for SELMA Café. Unfortunately, significant violations of the terms of our memorandum of understanding have made this termination necessary.

In addition, the scope of SELMA Cafe’s activities and programs have expanded beyond the original intent of the agreement, such that the two organizations’ missions are no longer closely aligned.

Dissolving the relationship between FSEP and SELMA Cafe will make it possible for both organizations to pursue their own programming independently, as each evolves and implements their core missions.

In accordance with our memorandum of understanding, FSEP will transfer the SELMA charitable donations to another accredited non-profit organization once it has been identified by SELMA Café and we wish SELMA well in obtaining their own 501(c)3 in the future.

Gottlieb said that she and Roumel have started the process of obtaining 501(c)3 status for Selma Cafe. That process included forming a board of directors. Co-founder Jeff McCabe, though no longer involved in day-to-day operations at Selma, serves as a board member. The group also now has an EIN (employer identification number) from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, but has not yet received approval for the 501(c)3. The process has taken longer than anticipated, she said.

Meanwhile, they are looking for another nonprofit that would act as a fiscal sponsor. Gottlieb said there is one nonprofit that might be willing to act in that capacity, but no agreement has been reached yet, although she said it “looks promising.”

Regarding the MOU violations mentioned by FSEP as the reason for terminating its agreement with Repasts/Selma, Gottlieb said that as part of the process of creating the new 501(c)3 for Selma, she and Roumel had set up a separate bank account for the operation. She’d been advised by Roumel that she could transfer funds from the FSEP account to the new account, and did so without first informing FSEP. At that point FSEP froze the remaining assets in the account, she said, without informing her.

Gottlieb said she now realizes that her transfer of funds without informing FSEP violated the MOU, but “the fact is they wanted to be done with us,” she said. Since the assets have been frozen, she said she hasn’t been reimbursed for the $600-$700 that she has expended from her personal checking account each week to pay for Selma-related expenses.

She noted that the May 31 deadline is the point at which FSEP could take the Repasts/Selma assets permanently, under terms of the MOU:

If no Successor is found, after a time deemed reasonable to accomplish these tasks, FSEP may allocate RPF’s assets and liabilities in any manner consistent with applicable tax and charitable trust laws and other obligations.

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In the Archives: Lightning Rod for Swindles Wed, 27 Feb 2013 14:29:19 +0000 Laura Bien 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.

Swindling Fraternity

“Next to the substitution of saw-dust packages for counterfeit money, and the sale of brass jewelry, the business of putting up lightning rods is a favorite field for the operations of the swindling fraternity,” wrote John Phin in 1879. Phin was a onetime faculty member of New York’s People’s College and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to publishing a Shakespeare encyclopedia, several works on microscopy, a treatise on “Open Air Grape Culture,” and a primer on the “Preparation and Use of Cements and Glue,” Phin also published “Plain Directions for the Construction and Erection of Lightning Rods,” from which the above quote is taken. At an 1871 meeting of the American Institute of the City of New York for the Encouragement of Science and Invention, he was regarded as the reigning expert on the subject.

From beyond the grave, Ann Arbor's Dr. Alvan Chase warned readers of the dangers of the lightning-rod men.

From beyond the grave, Ann Arbor’s Dr. Alvan Chase warned readers of the dangers of the lightning-rod men.

The swindling fraternity to which Phin referred consisted of itinerant lightning-rod men plying backroads in a wagon. When they visited farms they used one of at least three methods of trickery.

Ann Arbor’s own Dr. Alvan Chase, author of the popular 1896 book “Dr. Chase’s Recipes, or, Information for Everybody” described one such tactic in his posthumous 1894 book “Dr. Chase’s Home Advisor and Everyday Reference Book.” “The scheme is to sell the lightning rods, and to take pay, usually in the form of a swindling note or contract, which is placed in the hands of an innocent third party, and can be collected.” In other words, after securing a promissory note from a farmer, the swindlers could cash it at a bank. The farmer then had to contend with the authority of the bank – perhaps the one that held his mortgage – as the bank attempted to redeem the note for cash money.

Another scheme involved altering the contract presented to the farmer. After taking an order from a farmer and filling out a contract, the swindler would alter it. “After the contract is signed, the sharper inserts a 5 before the 7, making the amount per foot 57 instead of 7 cents,” noted Edward Roe in his 1904 book “Safe Methods, or, How to Do Business.” He continued, “And there being nothing said in the contract as to the number of points, vanes, etc. to be used, the lightning-rod man throws them in ‘good and plenty,’ so that instead of the business costing [the farmer] about $28 as he expected, he finds that the bill runs up to $185 …”

“Two men are working a new swindle among the farmers,” reported the Sept. 21, 1888 Marshall Statesman. “They claim to represent the National Tube lightning rod company and [have been] sent out by an insurance company to inspect lightning rods.” After the rods were “tested,” said the paper, invariably they were found defective. The men offered to replace them. “It’s the old story after that,” continued the paper. “[T]he farmer who signs obligates himself by a sleight-of-hand trick of the agents to pay two or three times the value of the rod.”

Fire Insurance

Lightning rods served as a lever for swindles for several reasons. One was the lack of reliable rural fire service and telephony. Washtenaw County towns had municipal fire services. Ann Arbor organized a primitive one in 1836 when the city was a village with only two small wards, according to Chapman’s 1881 “History of Washtenaw County.” Ypsilanti organized a fire department in 1873. Dexter followed suit in 1877, Manchester in 1883, and Chelsea in 1889. The farmer in a distant township, however, was largely on his own.

Some farmers forewent the expense of insurance, though many plans were available from a variety of states. The 1890 Polk’s Ann Arbor city directory lists 52 insurance companies in all: one exclusively for plate glass, three for life insurance, three for accidents, and 45 for fire insurance. Many local policies were sold by James Bach from his office at 16 E. Huron Street, among other agents.

In contrast to these stockholder-based insurance companies, Washtenaw farmers organized at least four local mutual farmers’ insurance cooperatives. The Ann Arbor-based German Farmers’ Mutual organized in 1859, as did the Ann Arbor-based Washtenaw Mutual. The Manchester-based Southern Washtenaw Farmers’ Mutual formed in 1872, and the Dexter-based Northwestern Washtenaw Farmers’ Mutual began in 1898. Regardless of this panoply of choices, some barns still burned to the ground uninsured.

In 1905 the secretary of Washtenaw Mutual gave a summary of his company’s recent claims, as reported in the September 7, 1905 issue of the Western Underwriter. “The largest number of losses, thirteen, occurred in November, seven by fire and six by lightning. July was second with ten losses, all lightning . . . [f]or some reason not fully understood, the number of lightning losses is on the increase.”

Lightning was a leading cause of fires in the era. Turn-of-the-century annual reports from the Michigan Insurance Bureau categorized seven causes of fires: lightning, steam threshers, incendiary [arson], field or forest fires, defective chimneys or stove pipes, unknown, and miscellaneous. For both 1886 and 1903, lightning was the second-largest cause of all fire claims submitted to Washtenaw Mutual, exceeded only by faulty stove pipes. In 1886 Washtenaw Mutual paid out $1,712 for lightning claims, the equivalent of $43,000 today.

One additional possible reason for farmers’ vulnerability to fraud was a general lack of information. Without reliable access to news, including communication technologies or the local turn-of-the-century institution of rural delivery mail routes (which also delivered newspapers, many of which were printing warnings against the swindle), farmers may have been at a disadvantage.

Some farmers had little tolerance for the marauding lightning-rod men, as depicted here from the 1907 book "Swindling Exposed, from the Diary of William B. Moreau, King of Fakirs."

Some farmers had little tolerance for the marauding lightning-rod men, as depicted here from the 1907 book “Swindling Exposed, from the Diary of William B. Moreau, King of Fakirs.”

Regardless, some farmers rebelled against the traveling agents. “A farmer in St. Clair County settled a note given to a lightning rod swindler,” said the February 6, 1878 Owosso American, “by grabbing the note when it was presented for payment and kicking the swindler off his premises.” The July 9, 1906 Marshall Daily Chronicle reported, “[One] farmer was given a second ‘contract,’ to which he affixed his signature. The swindlers were unable to cash the note in the vicinity, and one farmer got rid of the slick chaps by threatening to use a shotgun.”

The widespread fraud took its toll. “According to the Bureau of Standards it has been estimated that not more than fifteen or twenty per cent of the buildings in the United States which are liable to damage by lightning are protected in any manner against it,” reported the January, 1921 issue of the National Fire Protection Association Quarterly. “The lack of protection is charged largely to swindling lightning-rod agents of thirty or forty years ago, who prospered greatly at the expense of a credulous public.”

Over time the stigma faded. The swindlers drifted off – only to resurface in 2011 in Kansas, last May in Pennsylvania and last November in rural Wisconsin. Here’s hoping the local sheriff “conducted” the swindlers out of town.

Mystery Artifact

Jim Rees correctly guessed last column’s mystery artifact.

Mystery Object

Mystery Object

It is a “Dice Box” patented by Ann Arbor’s Eugene Gregory in 1894. Talk about a great guess!

See if you can suss out this column’s mysterious 1892 diagram. What does this depict? Take your best guess!

Contact Laura at

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to keep us from falling prey to lightning rod scams. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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In the Archives: Sowing Bogus Oats Thu, 06 Dec 2012 01:12:04 +0000 Laura Bien 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.

Scamming Oats

With minor variations the proposition was this: the “oat company agent” offered to sell the farmer 10 bushels of Bohemian oats for $10 per bushel. The farmer would grow and harvest the crop, at which time the agent would buy 20 bushels of the oats for $10 per bushel, minus a reselling percentage. For an investment of $100, the farmer would make nearly $100 in pure profit. One-hundred dollars in 1885 Michigan – equivalent to $2,500 today – was enough to buy a decent farm horse

If the farmer agreed, the agent would present him with a contract with an “abundance of red and green inks, [a] very broad seal (intended to look like gold, but . . . only Dutch metal) and the bold signature of a secretary [of the agent’s purported oat company] . . . ” according to the March 1886 issue of the American Agriculturist. The farmer signed the bond – the agent did not. The farmer rarely paid in cash, but with a promissory note to be paid one year later, when he received the agent’s payment for the oat crop.

It was at this point that the scheme took one of several paths.

Sometimes the agent showed up at harvest time, collected the oats, and paid the farmer not in cash but in his own promissory notes, which turned out, at the bank, to be worthless.

Other times the agent, instead of holding the promissory note for a year, would sell it to a bank. An unsuspecting bank customer might buy it for face value, trusting in the farmer’s good name, and later try to cash it. But the farmer couldn’t redeem the note prematurely without the largesse from the oat crop.

He had to either sell off some stock animals, perhaps the very ones that enabled him to plow, or plead unable to pay, which often led to a lawsuit from the note’s purchaser. A third option for less scrupulous farmers was to try to pawn off the oats to his neighbors, perhaps while brandishing the gloriously colored and impressive certificate from the agent, to demonstrate the oat company’s authenticity.

Marketing the Oat Scam

A third strategy extended over the span of two years, as detailed in Willard Tucker’s 1913 book “Gratiot County Michigan.” The agent breezed into the county and signed up several of the more prominent farmers for the oat deal. When the crop was harvested, the agent duly paid per the agreement

Then he published an ad touting testimonials from these respectable and prosperous men. One Robert Smith was quoted as saying that Bohemian oats were “the best and most profitable branch of farming that they had ever engaged in.” The ad was read with interest by numerous other Gratiot county farmers.

The ad did not go unnoticed by newspapers. The Nov. 20, 1885 Marshall Statesman wrote, “The Bohemian oats agents in Gratiot county are so audacious that they actually advertise in the local papers the list of their victims.”

“And the farmers fell over one another in their anxiety to get some of those oats,” continued Tucker, “and to give their notes for them at $10 a bushel.” The farmers showered the agent with promissory notes and planted their crop.

This time, the agent quietly laundered the pile of notes at a bank and wafted away.

Newspapers all over Michigan watched this ongoing pillage of local farms with mounting frustration. Editorial after editorial had gone for nought.

The March 12, 1886 Marshall Statesman wrote: “Parties about Morenci [Lenawee County] who have been duped by the Bohemian oats scheme into giving notes have banded themselves together to resist payment of said notes. It is wonderful how many dupes the swindlers can make in this reading age, when the papers have so long been filled with exposure.”

A May 1886 issue of the Ovid [Clinton County] Union, which had railed against the scheme, said, “[Some farmers who] thought they were too poor to pay 75 cents a year for the Union  . . .  will have to pay Bohemian oat notes to the extent of several hundred dollars. You see the point?”

Women v. Bogus Oats

Not everyone fell for the scam. Some starry-eyed farmers were dissuaded by flinty-eyed wives.

In his 1907 memoir “Swindling Exposed, from the Diary of William B. Moreau, King of Fakirs,” the author wrote of his experience shilling Bohemian oats. “The first farmer we came to listened to us, and there is little doubt of our bagging him were it not for his wife, who called him one side, and then the jig was up. We never tried to work a man after he consulted with his wife, unless she also fell into the trap, which was seldom the case. Rather cast down in spirits, [we] drove away . . . ”

An illustration from Moreau's book hints at the despondency suffered by farmers who were fleeced.

An illustration from Moreau’s book hints at the despondency suffered by farmers who were fleeced.

The Feb. 11, 1887 issue of the Marshall Statesman reported, “The fact that Farmer Courtright, who lives near Lansing, is confined to his bed by serious illness, did not prevent a Bohemian oats agent calling this week, and demanding payment of a $160 note. Nor was Mrs. Cartwright prevented from settling the business by catching the agent by the slack of his coat, getting possession of the note and tearing it into fragments, and then walking the fellow out of the house, too quick.”

Other schemes of the day evolved to target women. One Mrs. R. F. Johnston gave a Jan. 23, 1885 talk at the Monroe Institute about the deceptive nature of work-at-home schemes marketed to housewives. One of these was the processing of silk cocoons. “Those who have tried it report very hard work, no play, and very poor pay. The money seems to be gathered in by those who have the silkworm eggs and the Russian mulberry for sale,” said Mrs. Johnson. “When the cocoons are spun and steamed and packed, and express charges paid to Philadelphia, and the association fails to remit at all, or pays only half schedule value, one is inclined to believe there must be some ‘Bohemian oats’ about the scheme.” The term had become derisive slang.

Origin of Bogus Oats and Beyond

Other farmers figured out for themselves that Bohemian oats were a scam. As noted by the February 6, 1885 Marshall Statesman: “Bohemian oats fiends undertook to convince farmer Graves of Washtenaw county, that he needed a supply of their choice seed. Farmer Graves meandered to the house, came out loaded with a shotgun and other implements of war, and informed the fiends that he was subject to fits of temporary insanity, whereupon they left for parts unknown quickly and without ceremony.”

The culprit may have been one Alfred Hammer, who in 1884 organized a company called the Ypsilanti Bohemian Oats and Cereal Company, a mysterious concern that is not listed in mid-1880s Ypsilanti city directories. Hammer’s venture was short-lived; he was arrested in Flint for oat fraud and after a two-day-long trial, sentenced to either two years in prison or a $250 fine. Hammer paid the fine.

An illustration from Moreau's book depicts him and a confederate out to sell Bohemian oats."

An illustration from Moreau’s book depicts him and a confederate out to sell Bohemian oats.”

Many other lawsuits filled Michigan courts at the local, circuit court, and Supreme Court level. The Michigan legislature acted and in 1887 with the approval of Governor Luce passed the “Bohemian Oats Bill,” which made it a felony for anyone to take a note or receipt for the sale of grains at a “fictitious price,” defined as twice the going market rate or greater. Iowa and Ohio passed similar laws.

By the late 1880s when the scheme had petered out, the loss was counted in hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michigan farmers. Berrien county farmers paid $1,000 for oats in 1885 [$25,000 in today’s money]. Farmers in Eaton Rapids lost $35,000 [$863,000]. Livingston County farmers lost $100,000 [$2,500,000]. The Ypsilanti company is said to have cleared a tidy $100,000.

Michigan was not the only state affected. Similar Bohemian oat swindles were reported from Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Kansas, Nebraska, and a few in Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Dakota Territory. Even Connecticut and Maine, hardly grain belt states, each reported one fraud case.

When Bohemian oats had run their course, swindlers turned to other ingenious schemes. Some involved other exotically-named strains of barley, oats, and wheat. Others branched out into other farm products. “The Bohemian oats scheme has recently been o’ershadowed by a new scheme, which for unadulterated, galvanized ‘cheek,’ is entitled to the first prize,” said the April 16, 1886 Marshall Daily Chronicle. “An oily-tongued individual offers for sale Plymouth Rock eggs for $75 per dozen, and agrees to buy all chickens hatched from these eggs for $100 each. The fact that these eggs are pretty thoroughly boiled does not seem to interfere in the least with the sharper’s success.”

One well-known scam throughout the Midwest involved lightning rods. A salesman promised to install lightning rods on a farmer’s house and barn for a fixed cost. A tiny clause in the contract stipulated an extra fee if the collective length of the rods happened to accidentally run a bit over the agreed length. One Indiana farmer who signed up had second thoughts and ran to town to consult an attorney. “Upon returning,” said the Oct. 26, 1895 Goshen Weekly News, “he found his buildings bristling with lightning rods so that a bolt could not get between them to the buildings.”

The ingenuity of scoundrels perpetrates scams to this day, but 19th-century Michigan farmers also had their full share.

Mystery Artifact

In the most recent column, Donna Estabrook guessed that the item in question was kitchen tongs.

Mystery Object

Mystery Object

That is what I believe they are. I’m not 100% sure, however, and if corrected would be grateful for the information.

This Mystery Object was invented by an Ann Arborite, but what might it be? Take your best guess and good luck!

Laura Bien is assistant editor at Michigan History Magazine. Contact her at

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to keep us from falling prey to Bohemian news sales pitches. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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In the Archives: On Keeping Your Pants Up Wed, 01 Aug 2012 00:51:12 +0000 Laura Bien 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.

Early Suspender History

The history of suspenders in America begins with the heddle loom. This tabletop or small standing loom could produce a range of fabric strips, bands, decorative trim, and suspenders. Early suspenders were also sometimes knitted.

Suspenders next became an urban tenement industry. In his 1853 book “Life in New York, In Doors and Out of Doors,” William Burns offered an unblinking look at the ill-paid work of tenement women almost four decades before photographer Jacob Riis’ sensational tenement expose “How the Other Half Lives.” James’ book contains an illustration and essay for each of 40 low-wage female occupations that include wool-picker, fancy box-maker, gimp-weaver, straw-braider, and suspender-maker.

The suspender business, said the book, was “a first-rate business for the dealers – for the employees, the workers, we suppose it pays starvation wages, little more.” The suspender-maker’s father had lost his fortune and hanged himself, leaving his daughter an orphan. “She was quite a belle when her father was rich,” continued the essay, “and was beset by numerous suitors. They don’t know her now …[and couldn’t] recognize her now with a double-barreled opera glass.”

The suspender-maker brought her finished goods to the dealer each day and picked up new material to bring back to her room, perhaps buying a little bread or other cheap food along the way for a meager meal. There was no Sunday, vacation, pension, insurance, or eight-hour workday for her — it was work or starve.

The suspenders she and her colleagues made were shipped across the nation. Suspenders (also called braces) were a ubiquitous 19th-century clothing item for everyone from farmers to industrialists. In front, each of the two straps ended in a V-shaped leather “frog,” each end of which had a buttonhole for attaching to exterior pants buttons. In back, the straps combined into a Y-shape and ended in one frog, or crisscrossed in an X-shape, ending in two frogs. Suspender clamps didn’t appear until late in the 19th century. Most 19th-century pants had a waist well above the navel, making them unsuitable for belts.

Divergence of Suspender Opinion

Suspenders were uncomfortable. They trapped the shirt against the body in hot weather and restricted movement. The degree to which suspenders dissatisfied wearers may have some relation to the era’s vast number of suspender-related patents. In Michigan alone, nearly 30 such patents were filed between 1888 and 1922, including Ypsilanti carpet weaver George Hubbard’s 1911 patent for a “Garment Supporter” clamp. People couldn’t stop tinkering with their braces.

Opinions were divided. “Even the light pressure of suspenders tends to make the shoulders round and the chest contracted,” wrote Alfred Woodhull in his 1906 book “Personal Hygiene Designed for Undergraduates.” “[With] normal hips the trousers should be sustained by a broad, moderately tight belt above those bones.”

John Harvey Kellogg expressed the opposite opinion in his 644-page 1888 opus “Plain Facts for Young and Old.” “The dress must be so adjusted to the body that every organ will be allowed free movement. No corset, band, belt, or other means of constriction should impede the circulation. Garments should be suspended from the shoulders … by proper suspenders.”


Ypsilantian George Hubbard patented a new type of suspender clasp.

An ongoing demographic trend in the state influenced the clothing item. Social patterns were changing fast in the last half of 19th century Michigan. In 1850, 93% of Michigan residents lived on farms and 7% lived in cities. Michigan steadily urbanized; the urban population rose to 13 per cent in 1860, 25 per cent in 1880, 40 per cent in 1900, and 61 per cent by 1920. Ann Arbor’s population increased from 5,097 in 1860 to 19,516 in 1920, with Ypsilanti’s similarly jumping from 3,955 to 7,413. Both cities developed and prided themselves on municipal improvements: telephone and electric service and water and sewer systems.

Cityfolk could push a button for electric light, flip a switch to turn on a gas stove, and turn a tap to get unlimited indoor water. Rural electrification wouldn’t come to non-urban Washtenaw County until decades later. Meanwhile farmwomen lighted kerosene lamps, tended coal- or wood-fired stoves, went to the outhouse, and poured hot water over the frozen outdoor water pump in winter to try and thaw it.

Rural folk without a convenient way to visit town had one resource – the Sears, Roebuck catalog. Among its turn-of-the-century offerings were cheap ready-made clothing, distinguished by “stove-pipe legs and soap box waist line in the trousers … The man of that day with a belt on was a rarity, and as for supporting his trousers with them he could not do it without looking like [a] sewing bag drawn taut in the middle. Suspenders were imperative!” So said the December 21, 1911 issue of the advertising trade magazine Printer’s Ink. The 1903 Sears, Roebuck catalog offers a mere 12 belts but boasts an entire “Suspenders Department” with nearly 30 choices.

Towards Belts

Nevertheless, “[s]uspenders are rapidly going out of fashion – especially among young men and good dressers,” said the same issue of Printer’s Ink. The good dressers could afford the more tailored, slimmed-down men’s clothing coming into vogue around 1910. Utilitarian braces holding up ready-made trousers were fine for a farmer, but a modern city’s shopkeeper, as one example, was expected to have a more polished appearance with a suit or at least a vest covering his braces.

For those who wished to forswear a vest in a hot un-air-conditioned store, a belt became imperative for summer. “It is a time when every man whose physical conformation allows of it is preparing to cast aside his suspenders for the summer and adopt the belt,” noted an early summer 1909 issue of the trade magazine The American Tailor and Cutter. “The belt most endorsed for summer measures about an inch and is made of pigskin or Russian leather,” said the July issue of the Businessman’s Magazine and the Book-Keeper.

Invisible Suspenders

The belt, however, was uncomfortable for those with a generous girth. A solution came along in 1900 when Chicagoan Edward S. Halsey invented invisible suspenders.

The suspenders, nearly identical to regular fabric suspenders, were worn over a man’s undershirt but under the outer shirt, attaching to buttons sewn in the pants’ interior waistband. “The object of my invention,” wrote Halsey in his patent application, “is to supply a means of supporting a man’s trousers from the shoulder … so as to relieve all strain and distortion from the shirt, also relief from the hips, and giv[e] the wearer greater comfort and a neat and tidy appearance when wearing an outer shirt without coat or vest.”

advertisement for suspenders

Around 1920, The Suspender Manufacturer’s Advertising Committee tried to revive suspenders with this tempting portrait of a rotund alderman.

The novelty soon turned up in Michigan papers. The May 11, 1901 Traverse City Evening Record ran a large ad that included a plug for “a bran[d] new scheme for making suspenders invisible for summer wear without vests.” The June 13, 1908 Saturday Evening Post advertised “Se-No” invisible suspenders. Interurban train workers in 1914 were “permitted to go without their coats provided they wear invisible suspenders,” according to Henry Blake’s 1917 book “Electric Railway Transportation.”

Invisible or not, suspenders were passing out of vogue. “The sportsman first made the common-sense breakaway from suspenders, with the result that the belt is used almost entirely at present,” said the October 1920 issue of the New York-based Clothing Trade Journal. It continued, “It has been found that the suspenders can not only be done without, but that a belt is far more comfortable. It is true … that many men still wear suspenders, but they are largely those who have an abnormal abdomen, or who are unable to get away from timeworn habits.”

The March 1921 issue of Business magazine said, “There was a time when every man wore suspenders. Not so today. Today the man who wears suspenders usually is regarded as somewhat provincial.” The June 2, 1921 issue of Printer’s Ink added, “This whim of fashion among young men not to wear suspenders has gone so far that the big makers of young men’s clothing left off putting suspender buttons on trousers.” Belt loops were the new norm.

A coalition of alarmed suspender makers formed the short-lived Suspender Manufacturers’ Advertising Committee to try and revive their failing trade. They declared a week in October 1921 as National Suspender Week and planned a Christmas advertising campaign to try and convince shoppers to purchase suspenders. One pro-suspender writer in the July 1922 issue of the Railroad Worker trade magazine said:

Suspenders are like truth in many respects. At present they are “stranger than fiction.” They are often stretched. “Crushed to earth they will rise again.’ (Latest reports say they are again coming into their own). They also resemble honesty, inasmuch as ‘they are always the best policy.”

The nation did not agree. The number of suspender manufacturers fell from 100 in 1923 to 74 in 1935 and dwindled thereafter. The invisible suspender became truly invisible. It seemed as though the clothing item was forgotten for good.

But nearly a century later, it reappeared. The invisible suspender has been revived in the 21st century (you can order a pair online) not for decorum or comfort’s sake – but to help camouflage the abdominal avoirdupois that is unflatteringly accentuated by belts. The long-forgotten clothing item of the early 20th century returns for a stint in the early 21st century. May its wearers enjoy a general and pleasant elastic ease.

Mystery Artifact

In the last column’s comments, Cosmonicon and Irene Hieber correctly guessed that this is an accessories kit for a sewing machine.

Mystery object

Mystery object

Irene even narrowed it down, correctly, to an 1889 Singer – the very same treadle machine currently in my front room.

Talk about precision!

This month’s Mystery Artifact is a more prosaic item. Like the 1889 Singer sewing machine, it is still fully functional, though younger.

What might it be?

Take your best guess!

Laura Bien is the author of “Hidden History of Ypsilanti” and “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Look for her article on Coldwater School, a short version of which first appeared here, in the July/August issue of Michigan History Magazine.

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to keep our pants from falling down. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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In the Archives: “Freedmen’s Progress” Wed, 27 Jun 2012 23:58:01 +0000 Laura Bien 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. 

The impetus for creating the MMFP came from Gov. Ferris. The “National Half-Century Anniversary of Negro Freedom and the Lincoln Jubilee” was scheduled to take place in Chicago in the summer of 1915, celebrating 50 years of freedom for black Americans following the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Congress passed the amendment on January 31, 1865. Lincoln’s home state of Illinois became the first state to ratify it on February 1, followed by Rhode Island and Michigan on February 2, 1865. Five decades later, the Lincoln Jubilee commemorated the amendment’s passage.

Michigan was represented in Chicago at the Jubilee. Some months before that event, Gov. Ferris asked black staff assistant Charles A. Warren to contact 57 black leaders from around the state and request their aid in organizing a Michigan exhibit for the Jubilee. The group met with Ferris to discuss logistics and legislative support. Public Act 47, approved in mid-April of 1915, guaranteed $5,000 for the project [about $110,000 in today’s dollars] and stipulated that the people of the state of Michigan would “provide for the preparation, transportation, and care of a Michigan exhibit at the [Lincoln Jubilee].” A Freedmen’s Progress Committee was appointed to govern the work.

An advertisement for the Lincoln Jubilee in a spring 1915 issue of The Mediator magazine.

An advertisement for the Lincoln Jubilee in a spring 1915 issue of The Mediator magazine.

The act also said that the exhibit would include “a manual showing the professional, political, religious, and educational achievements of [black] citizens of this state …”

Though there were only a few months in which to gather information, the eventual manual included meticulously tabulated lists of the over 1,200 black Michiganders who were homeowners and the more than 1,600 black Michigan soldiers who had volunteered to fight in the Civil War. The MMFP acknowledged that given its time constraints, the actual numbers could be higher.

The work also provided biographical sketches of successful black Michiganders. In addition to Henry Wade Robbins, other Ann Arborites include surgeon Simeon Carson, postal carrier Robert Carson, Reverend W. B. Pearson, and physician Catherine Crawford. The work omits William Blackburn, then one of only 10 black policemen in the state.

The 43 black Ann Arbor homeowners listed include porter Levi Bates at 808 4th Avenue. The widow Frances Bubbs worked as a cook for Phi Delta Theta fraternity and owned a home at 1009 Ann St. Teamster William Grayer and his family lived at 1131 Traver. William Henderson, a chef at Kappa Sigma fraternity, resided with his wife Amelia at 701 4th Avenue. Janitor Edward Lewis and his wife Magnolia lived at 1009 Catherine.

Ypsilanti professionals cited in the MMFP include professor Louis Slater Bowles, Reverend I. F. Williams, physician John H. Dickerson, lawyer John H. Fox, and stenographer Carrie Hayes. Among the 68 Ypsilanti homeowners are foreman Abraham Woods at 320 Harriet, house mover Solomom Bow at 420 Washington, Reverend James Derrick at 531 Jefferson Ave., and George Richerson, the “wealthiest farmer in Ypsi,” according to the MMFP.

The home of Ypsilanti farmer George Richerson.

The home of Ypsilanti farmer George Richerson.

In 1915, Washtenaw County held the distinction of having Michigan’s second-highest per capita rate of black home ownership relative to total county population, exceeded only by Cass County. One factor in both counties’ significant number of black residents was the historical presence of Quaker residents, many of whom actively participated in the Underground Railroad.

The MMFP also catalogued the 196 exhibits from around the state displayed at the Jubilee. These included such handwork as fine lace, embroidery, quilts, clothing, and painted china. Artwork included a variety of paintings, photographs, and examples of printing and bookbinding. Inventions, blueprints, and patent documents were also on display, as well as a variety of agricultural products. Photographs highlighted homes and businesses built and owned by black Michiganders.

Washtenaw County boasted nine contributors to the exhibition, most of whom were from Ypsilanti. Ypsi confectioner Frank Smith sent a variety of candies. Carrie Hayes and Elizabeth Mofford offered their handmade slippers. Anna Clark and William Henry James loaned their “fancy work.” Fred Warren contributed a handmade cane, and Mrs. Wealthy Sherman a handmade rug. The remaining two contributors came from Whittaker, a hamlet just south of Ypsi: Emanual Carter with poultry and a Mrs. Clark with artworks.

A view of the part of the main exhibition hall at the Lincoln Jubilee.

A view of the part of the main exhibition hall at the Lincoln Jubilee.

The items went on display at the Jubilee, which also featured speeches, musical performances that included a mammoth choir of hundreds of singers, and other states’ exhibits of black Americans’ inventions, artworks, and achievements in business, manufacturing, and agriculture. The Jubilee was held from August 22 to September 16. Over 10,000 people attended the its opening ceremonies and an estimated 100,000 persons had visited by the time it closed. Though the Jubilee was open to all, one visitor estimated the ratio of white attendees at only five percent.

One chapter of the MMFP illustrates the sociocultural context for the achievements documented in the book. The book’s preface offers an analysis of the portrayal of black Michiganders in the media. Written by Freedman’s Progress Commission secretary Francis Warren, the essay attributes a perceived early-1900s rise in hostility towards black residents to a skewed representation in newspapers.

In a great majority of instances when the term ‘Negro’ is used in news matter, it refers to the criminal Negro and not to that vast bulk of black people who are making good and pursuing the even tenure of their way. Ordinarily, on the other hand, when many of the newspapers mention anything commendable about a black man, his racial character is not mentioned … the press emphasizes the racial character of black criminals and suppresses the racial character of black persons performing good deeds …

Warren cited several examples culled from Michigan papers. He then presented a table summarizing an analysis of the use of the word ‘Negro’ in six months’ worth of articles collected from Detroit papers.

Of 232 articles, “nearly 200 of them referred to the Negro in a manner that was not commendable.” Only 36 of the articles were “commendatory of Negroes.”

“This constant bombardment of the moral character of black people has produced an apparent growth of hostility to the Freedman in recent years,” Warren wrote.

Against such a backdrop, the achievements listed in MMFP shine all the brighter. The Michigan Manual for Freedmen’s Progress preserves a record of ambition, perseverance, talent, and success, and ensures that the artists, inventors, businesspeople, physicians, lawyers, teachers are remembered – as well as one Ann Arbor barber who parlayed a seemingly humble skill into wealth and comfort.

Mystery Artifact

Only one person guessed the identity of last column’s baffling Mystery Artifact. It was a stumper, to be sure! This artifact was brought into the Archives by a visitor (and used as a Mystery Artifact here with his permission) and neither I nor anyone else there at the time could guess what it was.

Mystery Object

Mystery Object

When the owner found out, by consulting with the owner of Ypsi’s Automotive Museum, he called the Archives and we were fascinated to find out that this is one side wheel from an old push mower.

Chronicle reader Russ Miller guessed that this object was “a wheel from reel type push mower – with perhaps a gear cast into a drum on the back side. Seems like an awfully skinny thing to push across a lawn but there might have been a hard rubber tire cast on the rim.
” Great guess, Russ! And there is indeed a gear case into the body of the object on its nether side.

This time we have one of those artifacts that will be easy for some folks and completely unfamiliar to others. Take your best guess and good luck!

Laura Bien is the author of “Hidden History of Ypsilanti” and “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Look for her article on Coldwater School, a short version of which first appeared here, in the July/August issue of Michigan History Magazine.

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our columnists like Laura Bien and other contributors. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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