Neighborhoods Section

Photos: Shorter Routine Also Ordinary

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did take some photos. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Faint Footprints

Swastika slippers made in Ypsilanti were once openly advertised in national magazines – including Collier’s and Cosmopolitan. In its day, the footwear didn’t cause outrage, or taint the city as sympathetic to Nazis – even though two other Ypsi companies made similar items. The fringed footwear pre-dated Hitler’s rise by around 20 years.

Shoe advertisement

A 1910 model featured a prominent design.

The swastika slipper was made in the Indian Shoe Company’s little third-floor factory at 17-21 Cross Street, above the present-day Fantasy Attic costume store. In the high-ceilinged space full of light from large south-facing windows sat an array of shoemaking machines with tough leather-penetrating needles, operated by about a dozen women and a few men.

Benjamin Boyce managed the company, but soon moved on to become the bookkeeper for the Peninsular Paper mill. His lengthy December 12, 1956 Ypsilanti Daily Press obituary makes no mention of his involvement with the Indian Shoe Company. [Full Story]

In The Archives: Story Makes Full Circuit

Editor’s note: In her most recent local history column written for The Chronicle, “When Work Was Walkable,” Laura Bien described a series of relationships that existed 100 years ago between people who lived within walking distance of their work. She included the following lines: “When Daniel [Quirk] visited the mill, he may have been driven by his coachman, Manchester Roper. By 1910, Manchester had been hired as one of the two servants in Daniel’s household.”

A Chronicle reader recognized that his grandmother had been the other servant. That reader contacted Bien. And Bien got permission to explore the family archives. This month’s column grew out of that research. Fair warning: There’s a bit of ground to cover first before you’ll learn the identity of that reader. But as always with Bien’s text, it’ll be worth the wait. Keep your eye on Mabel.

As 1900 began, 77-year-old York Township farmer Horace Parsons knew that his wife Maria was gravely ill.

His first wife Margaret had died half a century earlier, three years after their New Year’s Day wedding. Horace married his second wife Mary Ann on New Year’s Day, 1850. Just months later, his mother Rebecca died. The following year, Mary Ann died, possibly in childbirth, and Horace’s father Orrin died.

Horace had seen them all laid to rest in Saline’s Oakwood Cemetery.


Mabel as a child. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Horace married his third wife Maria on May 14, 1860. Over their four decades together, Horace and Maria shared the hardships of 19th-century Michigan farm life. They lost one of their children. They survived lean years early in their marriage, selling off sheep, pigs, and farm machinery. Unlike some neighbors, they hung on to their mortgage, expanding the farm from 30 acres to 50 in 1870 and 66 a decade later.

That year Horace’s restored flock of sheep was up to nearly 80 head and 30 lambs, plus cows and pigs. He grew oats, beans, wheat, potatoes, and Indian corn, and tended 2 acres of apple trees. His and Maria’s place was the typical mixed-crop, mixed-livestock Washtenaw County farm of the era. The heterogeneity of their farm and those of their neighbors was insurance against the not uncommon disasters that regularly struck down one or another animal or crop.

Now his and Maria’s time together, he could see, was ending.

Horace hired a local girl to help. Mabel was a teenager, though neither the term nor the concept existed when she came on as a servant on Horace’s farm. Mabel was the oldest child of brickyard worker and general laborer Orson Pepper and his wife, homemaker Myrtie. The young mother had been a schoolgirl only shortly before Mabel’s birth in 1884. [Full Story]

Balancing Ann Arbor, Detroit – and a Vision


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

Dante Chinne Patchwork Nation

Dante Chinni, co-athor of "Our Patchwork Nation." That's a Tigers cap he's wearing, and it's not accidental.

“I don’t want to be another city. I resent the fact that we are compared to other cities when projects are being proposed.”

That was Ali Ramlawi, owner of the Jerusalem Garden on South Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor, addressing the April 4, 2011 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council. He was criticizing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and advocating against a proposed conference center and hotel project on the Library Lot – the council voted the project down later that evening.

“Ann Arbor will change … but it won’t become Detroit.”

That was Dante Chinni, while riding the the teeter totter on my front porch last Thursday afternoon. Chinni has made it part of his job to compare communities like Ann Arbor – Washtenaw County, actually – to other places in the country.

Who is Dante Chinni? And why should Ann Arbor care what he thinks?

On his website, Chinni describes himself as a “a card-carrying member of the East Coast Media Industrial Complex.” The part of his job that lets him compare one place to another – in a statistically sophisticated way – is a project Chinni conceived called Patchwork Nation. It’s funded by the Knight Foundation. The effort has already produced a book, which he co-authored with James Gimpel: “Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth about the ‘Real’ America.”

Washtenaw County is featured in the chapter that introduces readers to the concept of a “Campus and Careers” community type. The classification, as well as a read through Dante’s Talk, confirm that mostly what defines Ann Arbor – at least for people on the outside looking in – is its place as the home of the University of Michigan. And certainly for people on the inside, it’s difficult to argue that UM isn’t currently the single most important institution in the community.

But some insiders – and by this I mean not just people who live, work and play here, but actual Ann Arbor insiders – are starting to float the question of what else Ann Arbor might aspire to be besides home to “the most profound educational institution in the Midwest.” [Full Story]

In the Archives: When Work Was Walkable

Editor’s note: Next month, in May, Ann Arbor’s getDowntown program will promote its annual commuter challenge – an effort to encourage downtown workers to try an alternative to driving a car to work. This week, local history columnist Laura Bien takes a look back to “commuting” habits of Ypsilantians a hundred years ago.

Ypsilanti commuting 1910

The work commutes of: (1) bank janitor Charles Anderson; (2) bank cashier Daniel Quirk Jr.; (3) paper mill worker Henry Dignan, (4) ladder company president Melvin Lewis; (5) farm equipment vendor O. E. Thompson; (6) streetcar conductors Jay English and Wilmer Gillespie; (7) Scharf box factory foreman W. Henry de Nike; and (8) ladder factory secretary G. E. Geer.

A tiring commute to a job sometimes far from home is taken for granted today.

In 1910 Ypsilanti, commuting for work outside the city was almost unknown. The few exceptions included traveling salesmen, one or two businessmen with interests in other cities, and a scattering of “factory girls” who commuted by rail to a Detroit mill after the local underwear factory closed.

Aside from that small number and farmers coming into town from Augusta, Superior, and Ypsilanti townships to sell produce, eggs, and dairy items, the city was a largely self-contained unit of local labor. Nearly every working resident commuted to work nearby within town. Most went on foot, with many returning home for lunch (a welcome break in what was then a standard 10-hour workday). The pattern was the norm for everyone from bank presidents to day laborers.

Who were the Ypsilantians of the walk-to-work era? [Full Story]

In the Archives: Women’s Underwear

Editor’s note: The Chronicle winds up March, which is Women’s History Month, with a column from publisher Mary Morgan about Jean Ledwith King, and Laura Bien’s regular local history column, which takes a look at women’s underwear.

Ad for women's undergarments

In 1894, Ann Arbor's Crescent Clasp Works at 39-41 North Main employed 13 women making corsets, waists, and hosiery. They included machine operators Clara and Lillie Scheffold, Minnie and Anna Schneider, Emma Tenfel, Kate Saunders, Eugenia Gauss, Ida Kuebler, Lilly Biermann, Ida Oesterlin, Dora Walz, Jennie Jacobus, and Anna Kuster, plus stenographers Clara Markham and Mary Pollock.

This time last year, census canvassers were going door-to-door, asking their 10 questions about each home’s residents, their individual sex, race, and age, and whether the property was mortgaged.

Imagine if they’d asked each woman about her style of underwear.

Thirteen thousand women were asked that question in 1892 by Michigan state officials.

The officials were male, but oddly enough it was women who were responsible for inserting the undergarment question into the state-funded survey.

The winding road to this naughty quiz began with an 1880s state governor who was concerned about the working class. [Full Story]

Archives: Starting Off on the Wrong Track

Editor’s note: Calamities like the recent Sendai earthquake impose tragedy on a grand human scale. History will undoubtedly document countless individual acts of heroism and bravery amid that tragedy – ours is not a completely cowardly species. It takes a different sort of bravery simply to deal with the result of a private tragedy of your own making – just by trudging forward with your life the best you can. This week local history columnist Laura Bien looks back on a tragedy like that – caused by a poor personal choice of a pedestrian path.


The likely method by which Josef's feet were removed, from Gant's 1886 "The Science and Practice of Surgery."

Josef Panek walked north along the twin railroad tracks leading to the railyard at Depot Town. He was a slender man about 40 years old, dressed in work clothes and a cap and carrying a tin lunchpail. He was headed towards the Ypsilanti Paper Mill.

Thank goodness his brother at the mill had gotten him a job. Josef’s wife Anna was caring for four children, including the newborn Mayme, in their tiny apartment on Michigan Avenue. And after the 12-day trip over the Atlantic three months earlier in April of 1880 on the steamship Baltimore, their savings were gone. But what a thrill it had been to finally see the New York skyline. Despite his and Anna’s lack of English, he had managed to maneuver the family through the city’s bustle and clangor and continue overland and over water to Detroit and finally Ypsilanti.

The job at the mill wasn’t too bad. His brother had helped translate the foreman’s instructions, and the machinery wasn’t too complicated, though the work was tiring.

Josef entered the Depot Town railyard, where the twin rail lines fanned out into numerous tracks. He’d been lucky to find work, and this strange place shared a few things with Czechoslovakia after all. Josef glanced over at the greenery along the river. Even some of the trees were the same, and a couple were just beginning to turn color, just like home.

Ahead lay the Forest Avenue railroad bridge, where the track turned left and vanished behind riverside foliage. Abruptly a whistle shrieked and a train appeared. It was on Josef’s track. Josef scrambled to the next track, away from the approaching thudding and clanging. Possibly someone yelled a warning, in a language Josef didn’t know. He never heard, from the opposite direction, the other train.

He screamed, caught under the enormous wheels. [Full Story]

Public Art Group Picks Two Mural Sites

Ann Arbor public art commission special meeting (March 11, 2011): A building at Allmendinger Park and a retaining wall along Huron Parkway have been selected as mural sites for a pilot program funded by the city’s Percent for Art program.

Building at Allmendinger Park

The pillars on this building at Allmendinger Park have been identified by a task force as one of two sites for a mural pilot program, to be funded by the Ann Arbor Percent for Art. (Photos by the writer.)

A special meeting on Friday was called specifically to vote on the site recommendations, which were made by a task force chaired by AAPAC member Jeff Meyers. He reported that the locations were chosen because they are highly visible, in different parts of the city, and in different types of environments – a residential neighborhood and a major thoroughfare.

Though some concerns were voiced during the meeting, ultimately the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the sites and the budget of $10,000 per mural. The task force will move ahead with the projects, including holding a neighborhood meeting for residents near Allmendinger Park, and selecting artists for the murals.

If this pilot program is successful, the goal is to create at least two additional murals each year. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Pulling a Tale out of the Hat

Editor’s note: We belatedly note that two months ago, in January, Laura Bien completed a year’s worth of her bi-weekly history columns for The Chronicle. We’re looking forward to the next year of her looks back into the archives.

He was born on the eve of the World War, a tiny baby with a fine fuzz of hair. Mac was tenderly cared for and quickly put on weight, soon growing to be a healthy, bright-eyed youngster playing in the grassy backyard.

Malcolm MacVicar Sr.

Malcolm MacVicar, Sr.

The large home at 304 Washtenaw Ave. (at Adams Street) held two generations of the MacVicars, one of Ypsilanti’s many families of Scottish descent.

The 51-year-old widow Loretta shared the home with her three children: 22-year-old James, who was about to move out West with his University of Michigan electrical engineering degree; 27-year-old photograph retoucher Adelaide; and 29-year-old Malcolm, who worked as a traveling salesman for an optical company. It was a job title he shared with two of Loretta’s 50-something brothers, also residents in the house. In addition, three lodgers rented rooms there.

Malcolm carefully fed and cared for Mac. As he grew up, the little one didn’t have the slightest conception of the plaudits and fame that lay in days ahead, after the war. He could not imagine his eventual, and lucrative, popularity with the ladies. He never thought of the future. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Forgotten Phones

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.”

Webster Gillett invented a telephone with four needles tuned to the speaking diaphragm.

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. [Full Story]

Talking Trees, Leafing Through Archives


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

Robb Johnston

Last week, Robb Johnston rode the AATA bus from Ypsilanti into Ann Arbor and walked from downtown to my front porch take his turn on the teeter totter. [Robb Johnston's Talk]

Johnston has written and illustrated a self-published children’s book called “The Woodcutter and The Most Beautiful Tree.” And whenever anyone pitches me Chronicle coverage of a project they’re proud of, my first thought is: “Can I get a teeter totter ride out of this?”

Before Johnston’s ride, I test-read his children’s book the best way I could think of, given that my wife Mary and I do not have children: I read the book aloud to her, and did my best to pretend that she was four years old. It was my own first read through the book, so I was satisfied when I did not stumble too badly over the part of the woodcutter’s refrain that goes, “Thwickety THWAK, Thwickety THWAK.”

Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” notwithstanding, I think it’s fair to expect that a children’s book with a title like “The Woodcutter and The Most Beautiful Tree” will end well and leave everyone with smiles all around. And it does. So it’s not like I was truly surprised when I turned that one page near the end that reveals exactly how the final encounter between The Most Beautiful Tree and the Woodcutter ends.

But the book’s text and its illustrations pull the reader along to that point, and suggest so unmistakably a dark and dreadful ending, that when I did turn that page, I gulped a genuine breath of relief that she did not wind up getting milled into lumber at the end. [The tree in Johnston's book is female.] Well, yes, you might conclude that I am just that dopey. Or more generously, you might try sometime reading aloud a book you’ve never seen before.

But speaking of things we’ve seen before, some Chronicle readers might be thinking: Haven’t we seen this guy Robb Johnston before? Why yes, you have. [Full Story]

In the Archives: As the Coffee Grinder Turns

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.


Cassius Hall invented increasingly sophisticated coffee roasters, culminating in this model in 1880.

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. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Edward Israel’s Polar Sky

Editor’s note: Now that we’ve settled into our season of cold, it’s fitting to remember that Michigan played a role in the polar exploration of the late 1800s.


Edward in college years

In this week’s edition of her biweekly local history column, Laura Bien offers what could be considered a beautiful, if belated, obituary of Edward Israel, a University of Michigan student who perished on a polar expedition.

It was no surprise in the spring of 1881 when a University of Michigan senior was offered the prestigious post of astronomer on a federally-backed polar expedition.

Edward Israel was one of the brightest students in his class, and one of the youngest. He accepted. “The expedition will be absent two years,” reported the April 30, 1881 University of Michigan Chronicle, “so that Mr. Israel hopes to be present at the reunion of his class in ’84.”

He wasn’t. [Full Story]

In the Archives: A Michigan Football Memory

joy miller football scandal michigan

Ypsilanti Daily Press of Dec. 29, 1909

Editor’s note: The game of football is a big deal at the University of Michigan. Recent media interest in the departure of UM head coach Rich Rodriguez is proof of that. And as local history columnist Laura Bien illustrates this week, it’s been that way for at least a hundred years.

The teenager turned up on a Walla Walla fruit farm, his memory gone.

The cheers of the football crowds had faded away. The jokes and camaraderie of the frat brothers were forgotten. When James Joy Miller’s father traveled across the country in the spring of 1910 to claim his vanished son, his son did not recognize him.

A news story from Washington state, printed in the March 24, 1910 Ypsilanti Press, said “James G. Miller of Detroit, father of James Joy Miller, ex-Michigan football captain and star player of last season, arrived here but failed to be recognized by his son. The meeting was most affecting, and Miller senior was unable to account for the strange situation which has overtaken his son.”

Miller had been a ranch hand on a nearby fruit farm for two months, said the story, migrating there from Montreal after fleeing Michigan. “He has no recollection,” said the paper, “of his former surroundings, declares he has never seen a game of football and says he cannot remember what his father or his sweetheart look like, though his father sat before him.”

Perhaps the scandal had been too big a shock. It had broken in late December of 1909. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Task Force Consults Panhandlers

Editor’s note: At its Sept. 20, 2010 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reappointed a downtown street outreach task force – aka the “panhandling task force” – which had existed in the early 2000s. The current group’s charge is to work for no longer than six months to identify cost-effective ways to achieve better enforcement of the city’s ordinance against panhandling, and to provide help to panhandlers who are addicted to drugs.

The sum of one panhandler's afternoon collection on Dec. 31, 2010 on the sidewalk next to Border's Bookstore on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photo by Dave Askins.)

Now that the task force is roughly halfway through that six-month period, The Chronicle attended its December meeting to check in on the group’s work.

You buy local, think global, pay it forward, recycle. You’re a good person.

So how do you respond to a panhandler? Is opening your wallet helping someone in need? Or is it enabling an addiction? Can you look the other way and still consider yourself compassionate?

At the Dec. 15 meeting of the city’s panhandling task force, three paid consultants gave their perspective on the issue – as panhandlers. Geoffrey Scott said he enjoys talking to the people almost as much as he appreciates the money they give him.

But one member of the city’s panhandling task force says people don’t realize the damage they do in the name of kindness. [Full Story]

In the Archives: A Path Less Traveled By

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.

Mary McDougall's grandchildren often begged her to retell her story of her walk among the 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. [Full Story]

Sunday Swim Raises ALS Research Funds

On Sunday morning, the traffic roundabouts leading to Skyline High School off North Maple Road were littered with piles of slush, as the snow and freezing rain that began the previous day continued to fall. Undeterred were around 40 masters swimmers, who navigated to Skyline’s natatorium to participate in a new event on the swimming schedule: Ann Arbor Active Against ALS Holiday Relays.

Skyline Pool Ann Arbor Active Against ALS

Swimmers just after the starting beep for one of the A2A3 Holiday Relays. (Photos by the writer.)

Meet director Amanda Mercer told The Chronicle that the A2A3 Holiday Relays, which were sanctioned by Michigan Masters for U.S. Masters Swimming, will be an annual fixture on the swimming calendar. The inaugural edition featured standard swimming relays, which took full advantage of the electronic timing pads at Skyline’s pool: A new pool record of 53.23 was established for the 100-yard backstroke.

But the  relays also included some non-standard races, including one where the relay “baton” was a T-shirt that had to be peeled off one swimmer, then donned by the next one in sequence.

Participants included a former Ann Arbor planning commissioner, and a former Olympic swimmer.

The Holiday Relays are one of several activity-based fundraising efforts by A2A3, which is a nonprofit that was formed in 2008 by friends and neighbors of Bob Schoeni, who has been diagnosed with ALS, a fatal neuro-degenerative disorder. A2A3 raises funds specifically for research to find a cure for what’s commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Schoeni was on hand Sunday morning to cheer on the swimmers.

The relays were sponsored by several local businesses, including: Probility, Health and Fitness Center at Washtenaw Community College, Jolly Pumpkin, Grizzly Peak, Blue Tractor, Barry’s Bagels, and Pizza House. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Papered-Over Money Issues

Editor’s note: As municipalities in the state of Michigan start to look ahead to their next budget year, we will likely hear often about the difficult economic times in which we live – and the importance of squeezing every last dime out of the budget. It’s fair to guess, however, that wrangling over Michigan municipal budgets will not include a discussion of who should pay for toilet paper. There was a time, however, when the topic of toilet paper was fair game.

It is wise to choose one’s battles. For one hard-headed 1920 Ypsilanti alderman, the hill he chose to die on was a hill of toilet paper.


In 1919 the original Rest Room opened on the west side of Huron just north of Michigan Avenue.

In that time, the city was halfway between old-timey days and the modern age. Fewer than a third of its 7,400 residents had telephones. The Ypsi phone directory was nine pages long. Due to a limited supply of electricity, many city factories deferred working hours to the night time. And an ongoing “sanitary sewer” project, viewed as a progressive upgrade from noisome urban septic tanks and privies, emptied directly into the Huron River.

Issues before the city council reflected this time of transition. At its Oct. 4, 1920 meeting, the council weighed the street commissioner’s bill for oats for his horse. The bill had been carried over from a previous council meeting when aldermen had struggled but failed to resolve the issue of a horse’s feed.

One alderman was fed up. “Alderman Worden said he had bought oats about the same time for 85 cents a bushel, while the charge for oats in this bill was $1.35,” reported the Oct. 5, 1920 Daily Ypsilanti-Press.

“Profound silence on the part of the other aldermen.

“Finally it was moved that the bill be paid, and the vote was 9 to 1 in favor.” [Full Story]

In the Archives: “United States” Spoken Here

Editor’s note: Many who live in the U.S. are distrustful of other citizens because they speak a different language, dress in a markedly different way, or have other attributes that cause them to be perceived as “not from here.” One such group is Muslims. And anti-Muslim rhetoric reached a point recently that prompted the Ann Arbor city council to pass a resoluton calling for tolerance. In 2010 it may be anti-Muslim talk that predominates among the range of “anti” rhetoric. But around 90 years ago, it was anti-German.

“It must have dawned upon any impartial observer that German is a mighty unpopular language in this country just at present and getting no better fast,” read the June 13, 1918 Ypsilanti Record.

Fritz Metzger's restaurant at 32 North Huron in Ypsilanti (near the center of this photo) was across the street from Shaefer Hardware and the Great A&P Tea Company.

The article described a Ypsilanti-area farmer who stopped in at a downtown Ann Arbor restaurant and overheard two other customers conversing in German.

“He arose and went over to the men and suggested that they make their remarks in plain United States,” continued the article. An ensuing argument turned into a fistfight in the restaurant, and police were called. “When the officer arrived, the farmer walked up to them and said, ‘I guess I’m the man you want,’ and proceeded to explain the circumstances. Whereupon the officers decided that they were not looking for anyone and left.” [Full Story]

Found Footage, Teeter Tottered


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

Last Thursday afternoon, I wheeled the mobile teeter totter down Liberty Street to the Michigan Theater, to the exact spot where John Roos [proprietor of Roos Roast Coffee] and I had tottered back in the spring of 2008.

Found Footage Festival Michigan Theater

I have no idea who these people are. What they're proving is that if you set up a teeter totter in front of a crowded theater, passers-by will just hop on and start teeter tottering. (Photos by the writer.)

The occasion was a ride with Nick Prueher, who together with Joe Pickett co-founded the Found Footage Festival. The festival is a celebration of old, found VHS tapes. It has toured the country for the last six years – each year Prueher and Pickett curate a new show. The 2010 edition passed through Ann Arbor last Thursday.

Imagine an exercise video featuring Angela Lansbury in a bath towel giving herself a massage. Or imagine a sexual harassment training video – how to recognize and avoid it, not how to perpetrate it – featuring a guy in a lunchroom holding up a piece of fruit and asking, “What do you think of my banana?”

These are the sorts of videotapes that Prueher and Pickett have sifted through by the thousands. They culled out the very best to make a part of their show, which they host and comment on live in theaters across the land.

On the totter, Prueher discussed with me the requirement that the videos they collect be “found.” The story of how the tapes were found – in many cases in thrift stores – are as important as what’s on the tape, he said. They’ve been producing the Found Footage Festival for long enough that people now send in videos they’ve found – and the story of how they’re found is archived along with the contents of the tape.

But Prueher described on the totter how there could be a kind of “taint” attached to a collection, if someone just sent in, say for example, a bunch of training videos that they themselves produced and directed back in the early 1990s. He also talked about his internship on Mystery Science Theater.

It was the notion of an authentic “find” that I found most intriguing. So I’d like to tie that into a short reflection about The Chronicle’s Stopped.Watched. section and The Muehlig Funeral Chapel at Fourth and William Street in downtown Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

In The Archives: The Farmer and the Poet

Editor’s note: In today’s world of Facebook Friends, we befriend folks with a click of a button. We can be “friends” with just about anyone: Ashton Kutcher or Bruce Springsteen or Barack Obama. These are, of course, at best “friendships at a distance.” This week, local history columnist Laura Bien takes a look at the way similar friendships were claimed in a past era. It was a time when a farmer – who was also a poet – could write a letter to his favorite poet and hope to receive a hand-written reply. Even if it was a “friendship at a distance,” the imprint of a human hand seems more authentic than the click of a mouse.


Lambie self-addressed a prepaid postcard to send to his favorite poet.

Well-remembered are Robert Frost’s three sojourns to the University of Michigan in the 1920s, and his house on Pontiac Trail, now at the Henry Ford Museum. Forgotten are the works of Ypsilanti poet-farmer William Lambie.

Lambie belonged to a generation earlier than Frost, but like Frost, Lambie had Scottish blood and took as his subject the natural world. Unlike Frost, he never left the occupation of farming or made much money. Lambie never won anything more for his verses than friends’ approval, with one exception – a penny postcard that Lambie valued as priceless.

The postcard came from another poet whom Lambie admired. [Full Story]

Photo Essay: Halloween 2010 on Main Street

Editor’s note: This is the third year that Myra Klarman, a professional photographer based in Ann Arbor, has graced The Chronicle with her charming photographs of the annual Main Street Halloween Treat Parade, when merchants pass out goodies to pint-sized princesses and puppies, ghouls and goblins. [Take a look at her images from 2009 and 2008 Halloween parades as well.] After seeing Myra’s photographs last year, one of our readers commented: “This makes me like our town.” We agree. Happy Halloween!

Blue Ghoul Princess with face painted white, out along Main Street causing a fright.

[Full Story]

Column: A Broadside for Barn Preservation

Editor’s note: The Chronicle’s regular coverage of civic affairs includes many meetings of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) as well as the city’s historic district commission (HDC). The GAC oversees the spending of revenues from a millage dedicated to the preservation of open space – much of it in the countryside around Ann Arbor. Inside the city, the HDC is charged with reviewing requests for modifications to structures that are preserved in Ann Arbor’s 14 historic districts.

In following The Chronicle’s coverage of these issues, local architect Chuck Bultman has been wrestling with the notion of where old barns fit into this preservation picture.

Every architect remembers that first time they went into a barn – the vastness of the space, the hewn beams, the light streaming through all of those gaps. For me it was in southwest Virginia, in the country going to college. I was captivated by the light and space. Outside, the farmyard also made its statement. The large red barn, along with the out-buildings made a room with a silo in it, not so much unlike a piazza with a campanile.

Barns have an interesting place in the built world. They are icons in the landscape, and as such it is easy for us all to assume a familiarity, bordering on ownership. After all, they have been there for as long as you can remember and you expect them to be there long after you are gone. We think of barns not as in the landscape. Instead, like rivers or mountains, they seem part of it – an inseparable part of the countryside that surrounds towns and cities across the country, coloring the landscape with distinct personalities. They are variously described as timeless, strong, permanent, and historic.

But barns are not part of the landscape, nor are they timeless, permanent, or historic – at least as we might commonly apply the word “historic” to an achievement, for example. [Full Story]

Column: Benefits of The Local Call

Due to some unpleasantness in my gastro-intestinal tract, I spent this past Friday night in the University of Michigan Hospital.

The author's iPhone, clad in its new case: "I do have an iPhone, a wonderful gadget that can tell me what drug stores are near my house ..."

Happily, I was not sick enough to stay very long, so I was kicked to the curb on Saturday afternoon, clutching a prescription for oxycodone. [No, that’s not a typo – it’s the generic version of OxyContin.]

I need the stuff for my stomach pain, which – for reasons the UM docs could not quite explain – has lingered past any sign of inflammation that can be detected by a CT scan or in my bloodstream.

I asked the nurse who checked me out whether I could get the meds at any pharmacy, thinking that perhaps high-octane opiates are reserved for hospital dispensaries. “Well,” she said, “that’s why you have a prescription.”

Yes, but filling a prescription on a Saturday night is not so easy. There are no fewer than four stand-alone pharmacies within a mile radius of my house on the West Side – five if you count the one inside Kroger’s. I struck out at three of them. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Ale and Beef

Editor’s note: The last half of the 19th century was a golden age of patent medicines – elixirs that were generally not actually patented. The professional medical establishment was on guard against these concoctions. This is the tale of an Ann Arbor physician who spent part of his career debunking the patent medicines of others, but then went on to earn a living developing actual patents for products that began to show a resemblance to good, healthy food.

From one of Preston Rose's advertisements, in the October, 1892 issue of the magazine "Alienist and Neurologist."

Year-old aged beef bouillon blended with Canadian beer was the health remedy peddled by onetime University of Michigan urinalysist Preston B. Rose – after he was kicked out of the university.

A graduate with the class of 1862, Preston entered UM as an assistant chemistry instructor in the 1860s. He married Cornelia Esther Robinson in 1863. Preston departed from his wife and the university to serve in the Civil War with Michigan’s 5th Infantry Regiment. He worked as assistant surgeon, and was discharged due to his wounds, mustering out in 1865.

Back in Ann Arbor, part of Preston’s work involved exposing worthless patent medicines. That work was undertaken with the Washtenaw County Medical Society, which was founded in 1866. The society was mentioned in a 1906 book, “Past and Present of Washtenaw County,” written by Samuel Beakes, who served as mayor of Ann Arbor from 1888-1890. According to Beakes, the society analyzed many patent medicines, “and exposed their worthlessness.”

The Beakes volume goes on to name the man who would ultimately become Rose’s nemesis: “In this creditable work Dr. Silas H. Douglass, Dr. Albert B. Prescott and Dr. Preston B. Rose were chiefly active.”

It was Silas Douglass – Preston’s boss in the new chemistry department at UM – who would cause him no end of trouble. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Earth Closets

Editor’s note: Michigan’s economy in 2010 is in the crapper. So the theme of jobs growth and economic development is a part of political campaigns statewide – from city council contests on up to the gubernatorial race. Yet no candidate has identified indoor non-flushable toilets as a growth industry in Michigan – perhaps with good reason. We tried that before and it didn’t work out.  Local history author Laura Bien deftly treats this delicate topic with her trademark deadpan prose.


Description of William Heap's earth closet. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

In the late 19th century two University of Michigan professors of medicine and an Ypsilanti doctor championed a new sanitation technology. Despite their efforts spanning nearly 20 years, the earth closet turned out to be arguably the least enthusiastically adopted invention in Michigan history.

It was an era of primitive indoor toilets connected to odoriferous privy vaults – if you were lucky. Even elegant urban houses had backyard outhouses – such as Ann Arbor’s historic Kempf House.

Patented in England in 1873 by Henry Moule, the earth closet resembled a wooden box with a rear metal hopper. The hopper was filled with clean dry dirt. After using this commode, the user turned a small handle that dropped a small portion of dirt into the pail, covering its contents and rendering them allegedly odor-free. In time, the pail was removed and emptied, often on one’s garden. Lower-tech earth closets without a hopper had a nearby bucket of dirt on the floor.

It was a 19th-century composting toilet. [Full Story]

In The Archives: Accidental Photographer

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.

A portrait of Mary from circa 1880, photographer unknown.

“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. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Fluffy Sparrow Heads

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.


The feeble Flobert rifle was dissed by the catalog house selling it.

“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.” [Full Story]

Authorship in News, Science, Totter Riding


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

Gareth Morgan on a teeter totter.

Gareth Morgan is a scientist working on problems of protein folding and stability.

The Dec. 11, 2009 edition of the scientific journal Molecular Cell includes an article called “Optimizing Protein Stability In Vivo.” It’s a paper co-authored by nine people. The first two names on the list of nine authors are Linda Foit and Gareth Morgan. The paper combines expertise in genetics and chemistry, reflected in the specific strengths of Foit and Morgan, who are two young scientists working in James Bardwell’s lab at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Michigan.

Foit’s name might already be familiar to Ann Arbor Chronicle readers in connection with what might be called a “unsuccessful physics experiment” near downtown Ann Arbor – an attempt to achieve greater residential density with a project called The Moravian. Foit addressed the city council in support of the project.

Morgan’s name is certainly familiar to our readers, but he’s no relation to the publisher of The Chronicle, Mary Morgan. Gareth Morgan was visiting Ann Arbor from England for a two-week span recently and will return to Michigan in October for around a month to continue his collaboration with the Bardwell lab.

The fact that Gareth and Linda’s contribution to the paper was equal is made clear through the last of seven footnotes on the author line:

7 These authors contributed equally to this work.

The collaborative nature of modern science was one of the topics that Gareth and I talked about on the teeter totter last Saturday afternoon, just before the University of Michigan football team started its season against the University of Connecticut Huskies.

We also touched on the issue of health and safety culture in U.S. labs compared to British facilities, and the role that game-playing might play in the future of science. For details, read all of Gareth’s Talk. By way of preparation, it might be worth thinking about where it’s easier to drink a cup of coffee – a U.S. lab or a British lab.

I took the occasion of Gareth’s explanation of the credit conventions for a scientific paper as a chance to reflect very briefly on how the allocation of credit is indicated in other lines of work, including journalism. [Full Story]

Laws of Physics II: Homeless Encampment

Exactly one year ago, on Sept. 1, 2009, the homeless community that had been camping behind Arborland mall was evicted from that location by Ann Arbor police officers. So the residents of Camp Take Notice, a self-governed community of homeless people, spent that first night of September just north of the park-and-ride lot at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and I-94.


Signs on the trail to Camp Take Notice. (Photos by the writer)

Last year, The Chronicle reported the commentary on those events from Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County: “It’s simple physics,” she said. “People have to be some place, and if people don’t have a place to be, they will find a place to be.”

The state police paid a visit, taking names but making no arrests. Later one of the campers, Caleb Poirier, would be arrested on charges of trespassing on the Michigan Dept. of Transportation property. Poirier was represented by David Blanchard of the law firm Nacht & Associates, P.C. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of Poirier, and the charges against the camper were eventually dropped. The camp’s current location is off Wagner Road near I-94.

In the course of the past year, members of the community – some homeless campers, some not – who organized in support of the tent encampment under the name Michigan Itinerant Shelter System Interdependent Out of Necessity (MISSION) have achieved more than simply a successful legal defense of one of their members. They were a key force in prompting the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to consider allocating emergency shelter funds for the winter of 2009-10.

And their recent achievement of official nonprofit status as a 501(c)(3) organization means that the goal of finding land sponsors to host the camp legally appears a bit more realistic. A student with the University of Michigan Law School who’s working with MISSION has sketched out a model for how liabilities could be handled by defining appropriate relationships among the land sponsor, MISSION and the homeless camp. The group heard a presentation on legal issues last Friday morning at the Washtenaw County Annex on Fourth Avenue.

But it’s all still a matter of physical laws. UM physics doctoral student Brian Nord, who’s president of MISSION’s board, compares Camp Take Notice to a gas and MISSION to a relief valve: “As long as the environment within camp is positive and community-driven, the methods of CTN can be fluid and operate as a gas. However, the established societal regulations and more so the prejudices act as a maximal container of this fluid. MISSION, the valve, has to evolve itself to consistently advocate for the rights of the individual, while appearing as part of the establishment to the camp.”

As The Chronicle noted a year ago, “This is a story that does not yet have an end, nor will it likely ever have one.” But it is now time for an update. [Full Story]