A post in the Local in Ann Arbor blog reflects on the importance of historic buildings in creating a city’s sense of place. It includes a review of “Historic Ann Arbor,” a new book by local authors Susan Wineberg and Patrick McCauley: ”This book should be on the bookshelf of everyone who lives in Ann Arbor and values any sense of our history and architectural diversity. As Grace Shackman says in her introduction to the book, ‘Susan and Patrick’s love of Ann Arbor shines through every page.’” [Source]
The new Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent, Jeanice Swift, is on her “listening tour,” visiting each and every one of Ann Arbor’s schools. If you haven’t gone to one of those sessions yet, I encourage you to go. Here’s the schedule.
One thing that has come up in discussions at some schools is the possibility of school closings. This is a natural outgrowth of the fact that in the AAPS district, the prospect of school closings was raised explicitly by the school board in the spring, and by the fact that the Ann Arbor schools have been under financial pressure for several years. (As has every school district in Michigan. You can visit Michigan Parents for Schools to find out more about why that is.)
In fact, in the spring of 2013 the district issued requests for proposals for consultants to help on redistricting. Eventually, they began discussions with the University of Michigan to help the district decide what schools, if any, should be closed. Since nothing has been fully negotiated, I can’t say whether the University of Michigan’s proposal is a good plan or not. They may have a role to play. But I can say this: parents and community members have “skin in the game” when it comes to discussing redistricting schools, and I believe there is an effective way to make these decisions.
As it happens, shortly before I moved to town in 1985, Ann Arbor went through a redistricting process. It was thoughtful, involved a broad sector of the community, and resulted in significant realignments and school closings – with long-lasting benefits. It’s worth taking a look at what happened then. If redistricting is in Ann Arbor’s future, this process may be worth copying and updating.
Chris Engle, the outdoor columnist for the Gaylord Herald Times, writes about his experiences fishing on the Huron River while in Ann Arbor for his 1-year-old daughter’s heart surgery at Mott Children’s Hospital. In the river he found the bowl of a manmade clay tobacco pipe. Engle writes: “Ann Arbor was founded in 1824, so my pipe may have belonged to one of the area’s first settlers, a clumsy fisherman who probably cursed when he accidentally snuffed his pipe in the river.” [Source]
Ugly Things – a national magazine covering “the overlooked music of the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s & beyond” – has published an article by Frank Uhle about The Fifth Dimension, a downtown Ann Arbor teen nightclub that operated from 1966-1968. From the article: ”In contrast with most venues of its type, it was an architect-designed psychedelic showplace with trippy pulsating lights, a huge spinning op-art wheel at the entrance, splatter-painted wall panels, carpeted sitting mounds, a sunken (soda) bar, and a mod clothing store.” [.pdf of Fifth Dimension article cover page] The print edition of Ugly Things is sold locally at Wazoo Records and Literati Bookstore.
On Recycle Ann Arbor‘s 35th anniversary, Barbara Lucas of WEMU looks at the history of the city’s curbside recycling, and interviews several of the people who helped start the program. Among those are Dan Ezekiel, who’s now a science teacher at Forsythe Middle School and chair of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission. [Source]
The pre-Civil War barn west of Jenny’s is being dismantled. It started Monday and it’s naked as of Thursday (Feb. 28). The barn is going to be restored and brought back to continue to serve this property for the next 160 years or so. Pictures taken Sunday [photo], Wednesday [photo] and Thursday [photo].
Editor’s note: A version of this column was originally published in the Feb. 18, 2013 issue of Michigan Today.
In the Michigan hockey program’s 90-year history, some 600 players have scored more than 10,000 total goals. But the man who scored the team’s very first goal, 90 years ago, might still be the most impressive one of the bunch.
He was the son of legendary American architect Albert Kahn, who built the most recognizable buildings in Detroit and Ann Arbor, almost all of which still stand. He pioneered the new discipline of neurosurgery, serving 22 years as chief of the department at the University of Michigan Medical Center. In his free times, he liked to fly planes, speak half a dozen languages, and hang out with folks like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Lindbergh.
But to his teammates, back in 1923, Eddie Kahn, MD ’24, was simply an exceptional college hockey player.
When he was in high school, however, you would have been wise to predict none of this. Certainly, his famous father didn’t.
Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Oct. 18, 2011): On Friday, the public will get online access to 18,000 articles, 3,000 photos, and an index with over 160,000 names – the initial phase of a massive digitization of The Ann Arbor News archives being undertaken by the library.
Andrew MacLaren – one of the librarians who’s been working on the project since the library took possession of the archives in January 2010– gave board members a brief preview of what AADL is unveiling at a reception on Friday. Called “Old News,” the online archives will initially feature items selected for digitization primarily by library staff, with a focus on the 1960s and ’70s, but with other eras included as well.
The hope is that future additions to the collection will be driven in large part by queries from the public. As librarians respond to research requests – people seeking newspaper articles or photos about specific events, institutions, or individuals – AADL staff will digitize their findings to be posted online for anyone to access.
The launch will also include special features from the collection that the library staff felt would draw more interest, including hundreds of articles and photos related to John Norman Collins, a serial killer whose killings in the late 1960s drew national attention. Other features include the history of West Park, and the 1968 Huron River floods.
Podcasts will be posted of interviews with former Ann Arbor News staff – including long-time crime reporter Bill Treml and photographer Jack Stubbs. AADL staff is also interviewing owners of “heritage” Ann Arbor businesses. Initial podcasts include conversations with David Vogel of Vogel’s Lock & Safe, and Charles Schlanderer Jr. and Charles Schlanderer Sr. of Schlanderer & Sons Jewelry. Additional podcasts will be added to the collection over time.
Though the cornerstone of this collection is from the 174-year-old Ann Arbor News – which its owners, New York-based Advance Publications, shut down in mid-2009 – another 97,000 articles from local 19th century newspapers will be part of the initial launch, too.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, AADL director Josie Parker praised the librarians who’ve been the primary staff working on this project – MacLaren, Amy Cantu, Debbie Gallagher, and Jackie Sasaki – and thanked board members as well for their support. It was the board’s decision in 2009 to move ahead with the project that made the resulting work possible, she said. The library does not own the originals or hold the copyright to the material, but the library did not need to pay for the archives. AADL still incurs costs related to the project, including staff time, insurance, and leasing of the Green Road offices where the archives are located. That location is not open to the public.
A reception for the launch is planned for Friday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The event will feature a talk on the digitization of newspapers by Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.
This Wednesday Ann Arbor is in for a rare treat when Gordon Lightfoot – the fair-haired troubadour from north of the border whose repertoire includes such classics as “Early Mornin’ Rain,” “If You Could Read My Mind” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – makes his first local appearance in more than nine years, performing at the Michigan Theater.
For his part, the 72-year-old singer-songwriter is glad to be returning. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says via telephone from his home in Toronto. “I’ve always gotten good vibes from Ann Arbor.”
Lightfoot first brought his guitar to town almost exactly 45 years ago, to play a three-night stint at a funky Episcopalian coffee house located in a former print shop at 330 Maynard Street. Today the unprepossessing brick building is home to Madras Masala, purveyor of exotic Indian delicacies; but in the ’60s it was Canterbury House, purveyor of coffee, donuts, and a hip spirituality that meshed nicely with the countercultural ethos of the day.
Canterbury House is actually a generic name used by many Episcopal student ministries at colleges across the nation. Ann Arbor’s incarnation was established in the mid-1940s and by the ’60s had become an important feature of the city’s increasingly progressive landscape. It began offering folk and blues music in 1965 as an experiment in reaching youth through the arts. Though mostly local performers were featured, the new program proved phenomenally successful, and the next year it was moved to a bigger location to bring in nationally-known acts.
First to appear at the extensively remodeled Maynard Street venue was the California-born “one-man folk festival,” Michael Cooney – “brandishing guitar, kazoo, banjo, autoharp, microphone, guitar strap, and truck,” according to the ad – who played three sold-out nights in early September.
Next up was a singer-songwriter from Ontario named Gordon Lightfoot, whose first album – the appropriately (if a bit over-exuberantly) titled “Lightfoot!” – had recently been released by United Artists. Although the young Canadian himself wasn’t that well-known in the states, his songs were. Marty Robbins took Lightfoot’s “Ribbon of Darkness” to the top of the country charts in 1965, and Peter, Paul and Mary made a Top 40 hit out of “For Lovin’ Me” that same year.
“If I had not gotten my songs recorded by some other artists very early on,” says Lightfoot, “I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. It was my songwriting, actually, that got me started.”
Which according to Herb David, proprietor of the famous guitar studio that bears his name, made Lightfoot very similar to another famous troubadour of that era, Bob Dylan.
Editor’s Note: The Washtenaw County’s public health department web page, updated on Aug. 12, 2011, shows three cases of rabies found in Washtenaw County bats so far this year. Since 2004, most years show 2-3 cases of rabies in bats. In 2009 there were none; but in 2007, 11 cases of bat rabies were recorded. Since 2004, no cases of rabies in dogs have been recorded in Washtenaw County. This week local history writer Laura Bien takes a look back to the early 1900s, when rabies was more prevalent.
The severed head of a small white poodle was sent from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor in the summer of 1935.
It wasn’t a grisly threat or an act of revenge. The head’s recipients were neither surprised nor disgusted. Severed dog heads were their stock in trade.
The poodle had belonged to Herbert Wilson of Ypsilanti’s northside Ann Street. The dog was “so vicious,” according to the Aug. 6, 1935 Ypsilanti Daily Press, “that even after being wounded by the officers’ rifle fire, [Officer] Klavitter had to strike him with the gun to protect himself. The blow bent the rifle barrel and the officer had to use a nearby tree limb to finish killing the dog.”
The dog had bitten 5-year-old William Himes on his right arm and leg, in an era when a dog bite could lead to an agonizing death.
Dogs in Ypsilanti that August were under quarantine, meaning that they had to be contained within the owner’s home or property. Dogs that broke loose or wandered into the street could be shot on sight by police. In earlier years, anyone was welcome to take their rifle or shotgun into the street and play Atticus Finch with mad dogs.
Editor’s note: On this, the last day of July, many residents will be thinking ahead to the second day of August, when Ann Arbor voters will select Democratic candidates in city council elections for three of the city’s five wards. Local history writer Laura Bien gives us a reason to pause and ponder the first day of August, too.
Largely forgotten today, August 1 was once an annual holiday for black residents of Washtenaw County: Emancipation Day.
The day commemorated Britain’s 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which a year later ended slavery in most of the British empire. That included Canada, of course, from which many early local black settlers emigrated.
The day was distinct from and older than Juneteenth (also often called Emancipation Day), a holiday that commemorates the belated announcement of the end of slavery in Texas on June 18, 1865. This year, Ann Arbor observed Juneteenth in Wheeler Park, near the city’s historically black Kerrytown-area neighborhood.
Organized by the Ann Arbor branch of the NAACP, local Juneteenth celebrations date back to 1994.
Editor’s note: As discussion of major investments in commuter rail service continues in the Ann Arbor region, Laura Bien’s local history column this week takes a look back to efforts more than a century ago to establish rail connections in the region. Does southeastern Michigan have the wherewithal to enhance existing connections and establish new ones? Or is all that just a huckleberry above our persimmon?
By the 1980s, the century-old train tracks had been torn up. Now occupying the former roadbed are new Eastern Michgan University buildings, the Washtenaw Avenue Kmart, the abandoned Carpenter Road mini-golf park just south of Thrifty Florist, and Pittsfield Township homes. But only a few years earlier, a sleepy southbound rail line with only one slow train rumbling by a day, was an ideal route for rural nature walks, south of the rail crossing on Washtenaw just east of Golfside.
Onetime Ypsilanti Press linotyper and history columnist Milton Barnes remembered. Barnes was blind. Yet in an early-1980s column for the Press, he helped others visualize a summer ramble.
“Strolling-just a-strolling, down these tracks in late August,” Barnes wrote, “we found a bed of wild strawberries, just a few of them, but as sweet as can be. The spring crop of polliwogs had grown into lively green frogs. There was a bit of water in the ditches along the tracks, with buttercups and cowslips … When we stroll along, and hop from tie to tie, every cow, lamb, dog, pig, and rooster watches. So do the farmers from their back doors, and some wave a cheery ‘How be ye?’ greeting.”
Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.
For about a dozen years, I was employed by the local newspaper, The Ann Arbor News, a publication that no longer exists. As one of the editors, I had influence but not control over what was published.
Now, as publisher of The Chronicle, it’s liberating to have the discretion to choose exactly what appears in our pages. But that freedom is somewhat checked by an over-arching decision to focus on coverage of local government and civic affairs.
It’s not a cherry-picking approach to journalism, which selects topics that might draw the most controversy. Instead, it relies on a methodical, relentless depiction of what happens at public meetings, where decisions are made about how taxpayer dollars are spent, or about public policy that affects our daily lives, even if we’re not aware of it.
Much of The Chronicle’s time is allocated based on our commitment to this model. If there’s a meeting of the city council or planning commission or county board or library board … or the humane society construction bond oversight committee … you’ll likely find us there.
On occasion, we do find time for more playful fare. A recent example of that was a Sonic Lunch photo essay, with fake captions, that we published earlier this week.
I was able to take in another event this week that also reflected the playful side of local media – from 1936.
Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.
We no longer number the monthly milestones here at The Chronicle. If we did, this one for March 2011 would be number 30. Parents with young children can probably peg 30 months to 2.5 years without even doing the math. Two and a half years does not seem like a terribly long time for a publication to stay in business – especially compared to the nearly 175-year run of The Ann Arbor News. The announcement of that paper’s closure came two years ago – on March 23, 2009. Coming as it did late in the month, the grim news did not figure in The Chronicle’s March 2009 monthly milestone.
Instead, publisher Mary Morgan filled the column that month with mostly lighter fare, including a mention about the addition of the Skyclock widget to the right sidebar of this website – scroll down to the bottom under the advertisements. Now, exactly two years later, Skyclock has again earned a spot in the milestone column – which this month is a quick tour of twilight, marijuana, and snow.
Editor’s note: Owners of new phones nowadays are as likely to think about the first photograph they’ll take with it as they are to contemplate the first words they’ll say into it. But Laura Bien’s local history column this week serves as a reminder that sometimes first words spoken into a phone get remembered in the historical archives. Given what she’s unearthed from the archives this time, it’s not clear why Chicago is known as the “city of broad shoulders” instead of the “city of big-footed girls.”
Quiz a friend or two about who popularized the type of electricity we use today – go ahead, get your geek on – and a few would correctly name Nikola Tesla. Then ask who invented long-distance telephony.
Probably no one would answer correctly.
It wasn’t Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, or any other celebrated name from the late 19th century’s feverish and fertile age of invention.
Like his renowned contemporary, Tesla, the inventor of long-distance telephony was an electrical engineer. Unlike Tesla’s numerous, sophisticated, and lasting inventions, his were few, crude, and transient.
But they worked – and brought him temporary fame.
Just as Tesla’s brilliance and legacy weren’t fully appreciated until long after his death, so too should be remembered the legacy of his humbler brother inventor whose name once graced the New York Times: Ypsilanti engineer Webster Gillett.
Editor’s note: In Laura Bien’s first local history column written for The Chronicle, she told the tale of a cigar maker’s son, who invented a combination device that would roast coffee and heat irons for pressing clothes. This week, she returns to the subject of coffee roasting … and grinding.
At a recent antique show at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds, my husband and I bought a cute wood and copper coffee grinder. “Cool – I can do it like they did it in the 19th century!” I thought.
At home, I poured store-bought roasted beans into the grinder’s cup and turned the handle. Fifteen minutes later, I was still turning.
The following morning I tried to Huck-Finn the kitchen chore onto my husband. “Try it! It’s pretty fun!” I enthused, while sidling back to the still-toasty bed. Within a week, the grinder was occupying a space in my collection of copper kettles atop the fridge, and we’d returned to using the good old can of ground coffee from Meijer. We gave up on the related idea of attempting to home-roast the beans. Phew.
Yet between 1867 and 1882, 13 different home coffee-roasters were patented in Michigan, seven of them in Ypsilanti. One Ypsilanti manufactory shipped several different models nationwide, and employed a traveling salesman to sniff out new markets.
The popularity of coffee roasters around the 1870s could be attributed to the coffee providers’ greed, ingenuity, and deceit.
Where’s a medieval village when you need one?
You know – that place where everyone knows where everyone else lives and everybody knows everybody else’s business and, no matter how insipid or irrelevant, has an idiotic opinion on it all, one generally borne of grinding frustration, depthless boredom and a general, yawning poverty of the spirit …
No. I do not need to get on Facebook.
But maybe somebody out there who is plugged into this dynamic global engine of online communal solidarity-ishness can take a break from investigating what your fifth-grade gym teacher had for breakfast and help us out here.
The mystery opens a few days after Christmas, when my husband and brother-in-law drop me at the Borders in Peoria, Ill., on the way to relive their childhood at a matinee screening of “Tron: Legacy.” Browsing the history section, I come across a paperback edition of “Life in a Medieval Village,” by Frances and Joseph Gies, and settle into an armchair.
And there I learn, from the back cover, that the Gieses “live on a lake near Ann Arbor, Michigan.” And there’s this dear photo of an elderly pair who appear to be Grandma and Grandpa circa 1948, but they’re also two scholars who’ve spent their lives together researching and writing almost two dozen books about life in the Middle Ages. How cool is that?
Editor’s note: We live in a time where women, and men, can easily and safely navigate any woods filled with dangerous wild animals, say in a helicopter, armed with a hunting rifle. Think Sarah Palin. In simpler times, people walked through the woods. And they just hoped not to stray from the path, to find themselves in the company of a literal or figurative grizzly bear, or – as Laura Bien describes in this installment of her local history column – wolves.
In the early 1800s, thick forest covered much of the land south of Ypsilanti.
The virgin forest nourished huge flocks of passenger pigeons on migratory routes passing north. Often they passed low enough to be knocked from the air with sticks. After one such harvest, according to one Ypsilanti city history, “at dinner that day, there was a tremendous pigeon pot pie, sufficient to satisfy everybody, although there were twenty at the table.”
But the forest also held danger. One large swamp in Augusta Township was named Big Bear Swamp, and wolves and panthers roamed in our county.
Into this wilderness in 1828 came Andrew Muir with his family. They had fled an economic recession and spiking farm rents in Scotland and immigrated with other relatives to America. Members of the McDougall family also made the trip.
After the weeks-long Atlantic crossing, 26-year-old Mary Muir and 29-year-old George McDougall married in Rochester, New York on Halloween in 1828.
The families traveled by boat and overland to Michigan. Andrew Muir bought a small farm near the intersection of modern-day Stony Creek and Bemis roads, about 6 miles south of Ypsilanti. He invited his daughter Mary and son-in-law George to share the property. However George, who had worked as a miller back home in Ayrshire, chose to settle just south of the small Ypsi settlement and work at its flour mill there.
Mary often walked down to her father’s farm late in the week to see her parents and stay overnight. On Sundays, George would travel down to visit and he and Mary would return to their home.
One winter day, Mary prepared to visit her parents. She set the table for her husband and made sure his dinner was ready for his return from the flour mill. Mary adjusted her pretty new calfskin shoes, tied her plaid wool scarf over her dress, and left the house.
The sitting woman smoothed a tiny wrinkle in her lap. She glanced up at the large skylight partially screened with gauzy curtains. It was a May day in 1872. Large fluffy clouds sailed silently behind the glass. The photographer was taking a while adjusting something on the camera. Finally it was ready. “Look at me, please,” said the photographer. Click.
“That was very good, thank you,” said Mary Parsons, Ypsilanti’s only 19th-century female studio photographer.
Born in Vermont in January of 1838, Mary Elizabeth married John Harrison Parsons when she was 21 and he 25. The couple followed other western-bound migrants, and during the Civil War both taught in Ohio. By war’s end the couple had two sons, Dayton W. and Frank John.
The conflict had decimated the student-aged population of young men. In 1865, John and Mary came north to Ypsilanti. John bought the equipment of retiring photographer J. A. Crane and created his own studio. It occupied part of the top floor of Ypsilanti’s post office building, then on the west side of North Huron next to Pearl Street. It was a good location near the bustling downtown on Michigan Avenue. Mary helped run the business and kept house in the family’s apartment, next to the studio.
In the late 19th century, an interloper was committing thievery across Michigan.
Glimpsed now here, now there, the miscreant evaded capture, flitting away. Finally in the late 1880s the state responded to residents’ outrage and levied a bounty on the culprit’s head.
Its tiny, fluffy head: the offender was the English or house sparrow.
“This detestable bird is an imported resident,” said Charles Chapman in his 1881 “History of Washtenaw County.” The English sparrow had been introduced in Brooklyn in 1852 in the hope that it would eat harmful insects. It quickly spread across the continent. Wikipedia notes that today it is the world’s most widely distributed wild bird.
Chapman continued: “A few pair first made their appearance here in 1873; the streets of Ann Arbor are now overrun with them, and they are gradually making their way to the country. Wherever they locate they drive out the martin, blue-bird, swallows … They are a seed-eating bird, and in portions of Europe do great damage to the crops of the farmer.”
Editor’s note: The new University of Michigan North Quad residential hall, which is opening this fall at the corner of State and Huron, will house the Global Scholars Program among various other initiatives. The goal of the program is reflected in a quote from a participant: “I learned to understand differences as diversity, not strangeness.” Historically, that attitude did not always serve as this country’s educational approach to other cultures – as this edition of Laura Bien’s bi-weekly history column shows.
Eighteen-year-old George Moore boarded the eastbound train on a chill November day in 1898. Several of his schoolmates climbed on. The boys sat near Mrs. Lizzie McDonald, their guardian.
It would be a long journey.
Four days and three nights over the clacketing steel rails lay between his Idaho birthplace and a Pennsylvania boarding school.
Built in 1879, the Carlisle school was led by its founder Richard Henry Pratt, a former Civil War volunteer who after the war served as an officer in the 10th Cavalry. Its members included Buffalo Soldiers and Native American scouts. In western Indian Territory, Pratt’s group was in charge of enforcing reservation borders to protect settlers’ lands; Indians left the reservation to seek food.
Pratt was also put in charge of a group of Native American prisoners whom he treated humanely, comparatively speaking, even giving them sketch pads in which to draw their experiences. Years later in his book “Battlefield and Classroom,” Pratt wrote, “Talking with the Indians, I learned that most had received English education in home schools conducted by their tribal government. Their intelligence, civilization, and common sense was a revelation because I had concluded that as an Army officer I was there to deal with atrocious aborigines.”
However, in his later role as schoolmaster, he also said, “In Indian civilization I am a Baptist, because I believe in immersing the Indians in our civilization and when we get them under holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked.” Pratt had firm beliefs about how and why to educate his Carlisle students. In his era, Pratt’s assimilationist ideas were progressive.
George Moore, who had taken the train and attended the Carlisle School, eventually returned part-way back west – to Ypsilanti.
Editor’s note: Faced with evidence that Asian carp have managed to find their way past an electrical barrier, earlier this month Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for aggressive action to prevent the fish from entering the Great Lakes: “In the meantime, we must use every available tool at our disposal to protect the Great Lakes, including closing the locks, expanding eDNA testing and applying additional rotenone as necessary.”
This week, The Chronicle’s local history columnist Laura Bien takes a 40-year look back into the past at the use of rotenone on a local lake – Ford Lake. That body of water received a passing mention in Matt Naud’s environmental indicator column on phosphorus – it involved a 1991 algal bloom. But back in the early 1970s Ford Lake wasn’t blooming algae, it was blooming fish.
In 1973, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources wanted to turn Ypsilanti’s Ford Lake into a fisherman’s paradise. They planned to stock it with muskellunge, rainbow trout, and large- and smallmouth bass.
The only problem was the lake’s population of “rough fish” – mostly the common carp, plus bullheads and suckers. Carp are not native to Michigan. They were introduced in the late 19th century by the era-equivalent of the DNR as a valuable food fish that was cheap to keep on artificial ponds dug on farmers’ land. The farmers’ aquaculture projects inevitably spilled into Michigan waterways.
A century later, the DNR planned to douse Ford Lake with the piscicide rotenone to kill the carp and other rough fish, then whisk the remains into the Ypsilanti Township landfill and restock the pond.
Instead, the project led to a statewide ban on rotenone.
Today, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly enjoys a position as one of the country’s most influential movie critics, his opinions read and respected (and sometimes reviled) by millions. Forty years ago he was a precocious middle-schooler who carried a transcript of the Chicago Seven trial in his pocket as he roamed downtown Ann Arbor, exploring the head shops and hanging with the hippies.
Soon after enrolling at the University of Michigan in 1976, Gleiberman was bit by the movie bug and began reviewing films for the Michigan Daily. He struck up a long-distance friendship with Pauline Kael of the New Yorker, who encouraged him in his writing and helped him to land his first job after graduation as a critic for the Boston Phoenix.
Though he now lives in Greenwich Village, Gleiberman makes regular return trips to Ann Arbor to visit family and friends. Over tea at Café Felix on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, he related what it was like to grow up in the countercultural milieu of Ann Arbor in the late ’60s and early ’70s, how that experience influenced his career as a film critic, and his thoughts and hopes on the future of journalism.
Editor’s Note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.
In this month’s milestone message, I’m going to explain what we do here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle. And I’m going to do it in a way that is intended to inspire additional voluntary subscriptions to our publication.
About 47 years ago, in a speech delivered in London to correspondents for Newsweek magazine, Washington Post publisher Philip Graham called journalism the “first rough draft of history.” The contention that journalists are writing history – even just a first rough draft – is pretty high-minded talk. Writing any draft of history certainly sounds sexier than the sheer drudgery of taking notes through a six-hour city council meeting seated on hard pew-like benches and condensing that material into a few thousand words for Ann Arbor Chronicle readers.
That’s an aspect of the job Graham meant in the first, less famous part of the “rough draft” quote [emphasis added]: “So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand …”
I think that digital technology allows journalists the possibility of providing a far better first draft of history than was previously possible. It’s better in the sense that it can be more comprehensive, and more detailed than the drafts that were constrained by printed newspaper column inches.
But seriously. Why does Ann Arbor need someone to write down its history? Do we here at The Chronicle really imagine that 100 years from now anyone will care that some new parking meters got installed in front of the Old Town Tavern? Nope. I don’t. Not really. Well, maybe. Okay, no. Not, really.
Sure, in an unguarded moment, I’ll indulge in the reverie that Ann Arbor’s 2110 version of Laura Bien will be mining The Chronicle archives and writing – for some next-century information distribution system – an article called “The Man Who Loved Parking Meters.”
More useful than 100-year-old history, however, is the history of five years ago, a year ago, or even a month ago. Because it’s the things that were said and done one month ago or one year ago that matter for elected officials making policy decisions, and for voters making choices at the polls.
So this month’s milestone provides a couple of examples demonstrating that The Chronicle is a pretty decent source of recent local history – a better source than the recollections and conversations of our local political leaders.
Editor’s Note: On April 20, 2010, an explosion on an oil rig 50 miles off the Louisiana coast left 11 workers missing and presumed dead. Efforts are now focused on the underwater challenge of trying to cap off the oil well on the sea bed. Local history columnist Laura Bien takes a look back 150 years into the past to recall a Lake Erie underwater challenge resulting from a different tragedy.
In the summer of 1852, $36,000 in cash and gold bars lay in a locked safe 165 feet deep on the floor of Lake Erie.
Worth $920,000 today, the riches lay within the wreck of the steamship Atlantic. So did more grisly testimony of the shipwreck’s victims, estimated as ranging from 130 to over 250. The deaths represented about a third of the 576 travelers packed onto a steamship meant to accommodate far fewer.
The era’s stream of immigrants pouring west made a profitable trade for passenger steamers traveling the Great Lakes. The Atlantic was the fastest one of all, speeding to Detroit from Buffalo in just 16-and-a-half hours. A towering steam engine churned huge paddlewheels on either side of the vessel. Despite her power and 267-foot-long brawn, the Atlantic succumbed when she was struck on the night of Aug. 20, 1852, by the Ogdensburg, a ship from a rival ferry line.
In the chaos and panic that ensued as the Atlantic began sinking, several of the lifeboats swamped when they hit the water. Some passengers grabbed cushions or anything buoyant and jumped in the water. The Ogdensburg circled back and picked up about 250 survivors from the water.
It’s a warm, breezy afternoon in late March. On the University of Michigan’s Diag – a grassy square in the center of campus crisscrossed by sidewalks – students are tossing Frisbees, strumming guitars, basking in the sun, and generally enjoying the promise of spring after a long, cold winter. The clothes and hairstyles change, but for the most part the scene remains the same, year after year.
Except that if you could somehow step back in time exactly four decades you would be greeted by a very different sight: students shouting, marching, and picketing; classes disrupted, canceled, or being held in nearby churches; angry voices calling for the deployment of the National Guard; a campus and community pushed almost to the breaking point. If the events of the Black Action Movement strike of 40 years ago had unfolded only a little differently, today people might speak of “Michigan” rather than “Kent State” as marking the tragic and deadly end of the sixties.
Instead, the BAM strike became one of the few protests of that era in which the students could make a valid claim of victory.
Editor’s note: Leslie Science and Nature Center is soon launching its frog and toad survey after holding a kick-off orientation meeting on Feb. 24. Other Leslie frog-related events include Frog Fest on May 15, 2010. Partly in that context, local history columnist Laura Bien takes a froggy look back.
Michigan’s inaugural 1996 Frog and Toad Survey started strong. “I have talked with coordinators in other states,” wrote state frog and toad survey coordinator Lori Sargent in the survey report, “and most are finding it difficult to find enough people to volunteer. Perhaps that says a lot about Michiganians – we care about our natural resources.”
So much so that Ypsilantians have been surveying frogs and toads for over a century … off and on.
“Five years ago as we sat on our porch one summer evening a toad hopped out from around the corner to the concrete walk,” was the way one resident was quoted in the July 9, 1907 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “We watched it ‘walk’ down to the street sidewalk and within half an hour or so back it came.”
The Normal Park resident continued, “The next night as we were again sitting on the porch, one said, ‘I wonder whether our toad will be out tonight?’ It was but a few minutes when out it hopped and started down the walk. Within the hour it came back.”
Editor’s note: At a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, an item in the city’s capital improvements plan to shift and extend the runway at Ann Arbor’s municipal airport generated much discussion. This installment of “In the Archives” takes a look at Ypsilanti’s airport, which has faded from the landscape.
The delicate blue Waco 10 biplane roared 10 feet over the grass, past the crowd in the stands. Approaching trees at the airfield’s far end, its nose rose and it climbed, becoming smaller and smaller in view.
The gargling buzz of its 90-horsepower engine grew fainter, until the craft sounded like a distant housefly. Watchers from Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor under the 4 o’clock June sun shaded their eyes with their hands.
The buzz stopped: 1,500 feet in the air, the plane was without power.
The biplane arced to the left, trying to loop back towards the field. The crowd watched intently. The biplane curved again, losing altitude. A box of popcorn fell from the hand of a little boy watching, his mouth open. The plane’s wings wobbled. Airplane and crowd were quiet. On a nearby farm, a dog barked.
The plane dropped. Nearing the field, it slowed, its toylike wheels just a yard over the ground. The plane nearly stalled – and then landed as gently as a butterfly. It rolled to a stop. Its nose nearly touched a black and white checkered pylon. The crowd began clapping and cheering as two men ran to the plane and stretched a yellow measuring tape between the plane’s silver nose and the pylon. One yelled a number. The crowd grew louder, some people standing to cheer and whistle.
The pilot grinned and thrust both fists up. He’d won the “dead-stick” engine-off gliding and landing contest at the 1927 Ypsilanti Airport air show.
On March 12, 1968, Robben Wright Fleming was inaugurated as the ninth president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was a time of great turmoil on college campuses across the country, especially at Michigan, which was in the vanguard of the radical student movement. Fleming had been hired to replace the retiring Harlan Hatcher largely because of the reputation he had built for controlling student unrest while chancellor at the University of Wisconsin.
Fleming’s background was as a labor negotiator, and he preferred to engage students in reasoned discussion and debate rather than send in the riot squad. As he related in his autobiography, “Tempests into Rainbows,” after learning of his interest in taking the top post at Michigan, the regents of the university invited him to the Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit, where for two hours they talked mainly about how he would deal with student disruptions.
Fleming explained to the regents that he “thought force must be avoided insofar as humanly possible, that indignities and insults could be endured if they averted violence, and that … these problems would last for some unspecified time, but that they would eventually end.” The next day he was offered the presidency.
Editor’s note: “In the Archives” is a biweekly series on local area history. In the coming week, on Jan. 19-20, the city of Ann Arbor will interview proposers of different projects for the top of a new underground parking garage at the Library Lot – including some developers who would like to build a hotel there. In this installment of her historical look back, Laura Bien offers a vignette of life just east of Ann Arbor, in Ypsilanti’s Huron Hotel, just after it had opened.
Eula Beardsley and Gladys Huston exited the front door of their Ypsilanti rooming house at Adams and Pearl one late December day in 1924.
“Colder than I thought,” said Gladys. Eula pulled shut the front door. “You’ll warm up at that big lunch today.” The pair walked one block east on Pearl Street, passing shiny rows of black cars in the Wiedman auto dealership to their left.
They crossed Washington, headed towards the door of the elegant new Huron Hotel on the northeast corner of Pearl and Washington.
Two years earlier, the only accommodations the city could offer guests were at the old-fashioned Hawkins House on Michigan Avenue between Washington and Adams. Built in the 19th century, the place had a worn-out and rustic atmosphere. The Ypsilanti Board of Commerce decided the city needed a modern, attractive hotel. It sold shares of stock to city residents, raised $200,000, and built the hotel in eight months, adding two additional floors two years later.