Downtown Ann Arbor Book

The Ann Arbor News did me a huge favor today by publishing an article about my book, Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor. The article can be found here. There are some lovely pictures of then & now, including some of those “slidey” things that let you mouse over the picture and see before & after.

Writing the book was an honor and privilege, and true labor of love. I submitted the query letter, not quite knowing what I was getting into. I had moments of OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO PULL MY EYEBALLS OUT AND BOUNCE THEM DOWN MAIN STREET to There’s no way I can do this I suck I suck at all to Well, maybe I can do this….

I hope folks like it, and I hope that it makes people think a little about the history of our lovely, wonderful little city.

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“Awful Cold Snap”, January of 1875

Unless you’ve been walking around with a space heater attached to your head, you know it’s been really really really cold. I boogered around in the Old News archive to see how our friends in the 1800s dealt with the cold weather and while I didn’t find any tips on staying warm, I did find a wonderful little article that talked about an “awful cold snap”. Here are just some of the nasty things that happened:

  • It was -20 in our lovely little town
  • Thanks to a keen, cutting wind from the southwest, all who were obliged to go outside were seen “hurrying in frigid haste”
  • Bushels of frostbitten ears and fingers were reported to the paper (that seems odd…did people just walk in to announce their frostbite!?)
  • Jack Frost “stole stealthily” into the cellars of area homes and “bit” the apples and potatoes and froze the milk and beer. NOT THE BEER!!! Damn you, Jack Frost!
  • Cheyenne reported a temperature of -37 (a quick search yields no Cheyenne, MI, btw)
  • In Detroit, a milkman froze to death while delivering his goods via his wagon
  • Trains in Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota were stopped because of the cold
  • Then the paper gets a little weird and says something about how “all through the region where the grasshopper plague swept away the food, now comes the freezing cold to wipe out still more of human life.” I don’t know if they were looking for clickbait just being melodramatic or what, but I find that sentence rather disturbing.

Stay warm!

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Everybody Loves Ann Arbor!

Okay, not everyone. I get that. But in 1878, a New York newspaper was showing us some love in the form of a series of illustrations of our young city. The New York Daily Graphic was the first tabloid to feature illustrations, and it was NOT AN EASY THING TO DO, MFERS! The article explains how difficult it was, and I would encourage folks to read it if you are at all interested. Let’s just say that it makes the whole concept of “selfies” seem even more ridiculous.

Our friends in New York called us a “beautiful and flourishing” city in Washtenaw (which means beautiful in “the Indian” [give them a break here…it was 1878])…I didn’t know it meant anything. They talked about our lovely trees, our good schools (and willingness to pay for them), and our fine stores. They were a little concern that we didn’t have much manufacturing, despite the Huron River being RIGHT THERE with all of its water power.

Fifteen lovely illustrations were included in this article!! Look at the scene of Main Street going north! Those buildings are still there, mostly. But check out Huron…whoa! Yeah, not so much like that anymore!!!

Hopefully the link above will work...here it is again. Thank you, Ann Arbor News, for looking back at this lovely tribute to our fair city!!!

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The Love of Silent Movies

Our beloved Michigan Theater had a special presentation yesterday: Charlie Chaplin short films! Yay! I have to admit that I was not always the huge silent movie fan that I am today; in fact, silent movies used to sort of scare me. The people moved kinda fast and jerky (like monsters in horror movies sometimes do), they had the dark eyeliner around their eyes, and the music was stuff with which I was unfamiliar.

But the something happened, circa 2000. I was in a job I hated (I hated all law jobs, but this one was particular awful. $650/week for working in a pressure cooker, getting threatened with termination over any error, just awful) and naturally, I got really sick. That was my method of coping back in the law days. So I was at home and going through the channels when I happened upon TCM. They were showing a silent movie, and I started watching it. Something about the way they were acting, and the emotions, and the old timey sets…it hooked me in and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Until I moved here, I didn’t have much opportunity to watch the silents. When I first moved here, they had a monthly thing at the Michigan Theater where an older gentleman would bring his private collection of rarely seen silent clips. Sadly, he passed away and the Sunday Silents stopped. But the Michigan still shows them on occasion.

We have a long, proud history of theaters in our fair city. Let’s look at some!

Orpheum is open on week-ends, friends! Read all about it!

The Orpheum was on Main Street (where Gratzi is now), and opened in 1913. It was owned by the gentleman who also owned Wuerth Theater and the Wuerth clothing store. His name, interesting, was Steve Brown. Ha ha, just kidding! It was J. Fred Wuerth.

Speaking of the Wuerth, check out its marquee. Here is an ad of a movie it was showing in 1940. It was the BIG EMOTIONAL PARADE OF TODAY!

A 1940s era article tells of a fire at the Arcade theater–during a Charlie Chaplin show!

There is so much more that I could say about theaters, but I will stop for now! I will leave you with this…an article about a YO-YO contest sponsored by local theaters because Ann Arbor freaking rules!

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Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

These days, we can predict snowstorms almost down to the minute. Various sources told me that yesterday’s snowstorm would start out slow until about noon or so (yep), and then it would pick up (YEP!) and that we would end up with around a foot of snow (oh YEPPERS!). I sometimes wonder what it was like to have no real idea of what the weather would hold. I mean, sure, we joke about “weatherpeople only be right 50% of the time ha ha ha ha”, but at least we usually have some clue about what’s going to happen.

Our friends in the past took a somewhat romantic view of the weather, as you will see in the following writings. (Note: I am not trying to force people to my Twitter feed; rather, for some reason the pictures are coming out very small when I try to cut and paste them into the blog.)

First, the Argus of 1864 gives us a lovely poem about SNOW! I was very excited to see a paper from 150+years ago in the Old News archives! I remember hearing rumors about the donation of Civil War era papers and I am hoping that this is the first batch to be scanned.

This 1870s Argus assures us that snow whitens the complexion (uh, yeah, hi 1870! Not everyone has white skin!) and also may remove freckles.

Then we read about Autumn Snow.

And a gentle reminder that it could be snowing in April, so it could always be much, much worse!

Stay safe and warm!

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It Sucked to be a Woman in 1899

Things are not perfect for us now. Not by a damn shot. But the January 27, 1899 Argus-Democrat told some hair-raising tales about life for the ladies:

  • Barbara Bader (of 702 N. Fifth Avenue, not far from my house!) was held up “for the purposes of robbery”. At around 6:45am, Barbara was on her way to job her at the hospital (in the laundry), and a man grabbed her by her throat. He threw her down, she screamed, and he took off. The paper opined that it ought to be safe for women in this city.
  • “Curly” Trempler was released from jail and is now in Detroit, looking to kill his wife. Yep, kids, that’s what the Argus-Dem told us! He served a 2.5 year stint in Jackson for cutting his wife, and apparently (and shockingly!) the time in prison did nothing to rehabilitate the man called “Frenchy with a knife” by local police.
  • Mrs. Kate Pruett of Pittsfield was looking to divorce her husband. He has failed to support her or her children and left her stranded in Philadelphia, even though he is earning $15 a week.
  • William Mulholland was on trial for “wife beating”. Since that charge, dear William broke a saloon window, so the two charges will be combined into one trial.
  • But it wasn’t all bad…the teachers of Washtenaw County traveled to Lansing for a conference. Since they traveled the farthest, they won a year long subscription to the Michigan School Monitor. As they say–you go, girls! (A phrase that really should, uh, go….)
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The Temperance Question, Silver Pickle Casters and Scapegraces–January, 1888

Of course, there was no Martin Luther King Day back in 1888, mainly because he didn’t exist yet. And civil or equal rights weren’t a thing that newspapers really talked much about (not that I’ve seen yet, anyway).

But a social issue that was most definitely a “thing” was alcohol “temperance”. Some historical definitions draw a line between temperance and straight out prohibition (with the former calling for what we would now call responsible drinking and the latter calling for the abolish of alcohol), but when I read about “temperance”, I tend to find the author leaning towards an out-and-out ban.

To be fair, there were few or no safety nets for people negatively affected by alcohol. Your husband drinks up his wages and you are left to starve? Too bad, so sad for you. Your husband uses alcohol as his excuse to beat the crap out of you? Your lot in life. You are an alcoholic and would like to stop drinking? Good luck, kid!

There is a very long and, in my opinion, somewhat rambling editorial on the issue. Their ultimate thought was that the “local control” option would win the day. If prohibition went into effect, it would last until a change could be effected (three years). This issue would not go quietly…it is in many articles I have read.

Other highlights from the editorial section:

  • “Mrs. F” writes against war, saying that she lost four brothers in the Civil War. Her most chilling words though are these: “I am alone and cannot vote”. As much as I love to wax nostalgic about our past, and think about all of those fine pioneers, it does me well to remind myself that if I had lived then I could not have voted. That is terrifying.
  • Prof. J. Bengel, a much loved teacher, passed away suddenly.
  • William Frank has been making some changes at the Germania Hotel, including the addition of rooms.
  • The city band (Otto’s?) had a masquerade and made $110! They gave away some cool prizes, including a gold headed cane for the men and a silver pickle caster for the ladies.
  • Young “scapegraces” have been hanging around the post office, making it an inconvenience for everyone, especially the ladies. The Courier wanted a police officer stationed outside the post office to stop this disgrace to the city. As an aside, no boy should be allowed inside the building to sell papers.
  • Last Wednesday, a group commenced a 9 mile sleigh ride and were out until the “we sma’ hours”. This led to some sleepy school children the next day!
  • A.L. Noble has an “ad” in the paper. Seeing that made me think of this blog.
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What Were Our Legislators Up To in 1893?

Well! Things have changed in Michigan, that’s for sure. The January 13, 1893 Argus had a little article about what our friends in Lansing were up to:

  • Representative Mills was on the committee for the Michigan Institute for the Deaf and Dumb
  • Our own Senator Clark was on committees including Immigration and Reformatory
  • Representative Kline was on the committee for the Upper Peninsula Prison
  • Mr. Kline also introduced a bill providing that one be hanged if one was found guilty of 1st degree murder by nine people on a jury. He plans to later introduce a bill calling for electrocution instead of hanging.

We no longer have capital punishment in Michigan, and we don’t call anything an institute for the “deaf and dumb”. Looking back at those antiquated and rather disturbing things makes me queasy, but also very glad that we’ve evolved beyond such things.

I wonder if someone will be sitting in this town, in 100 years, and writing about how disturbing it is to read about how Michigan didn’t allow marriage equality, women were harassed and abused online (and IRL), people were discriminated against just because of their race…what will that person feel queasy about from this time?!

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Ann Arbor is Awesome–Even 1885 Knew It!

I happened to click on the link for the January 7, 1885 Courier and learned that the Chicago Inter Ocean (a newspaper published in Chicago from 1865-1914) sent an agent to our fine city to report on the advantages of living and doing business here. According to the Courier, our “Maple City” needs families from other parts in order to grow. In order to draw in new people, citizens need to “boom” the town. Since other towns were booming themselves, they probably wouldn’t have time to boom us, so we had to boom ourselves. (Seriously, the article says this).

“Ann Arbor is one of the very fairest cities in the whole union,” said the Courier. The paper said that it was proud of Ann Arbor, and felt that if others in the country knew about us, families would be flocking to us.

The paper then went on to intimate that the merchants and university people didn’t properly take advantage of the visit from the Chicago agent. In other places, you see, large ads were taken out in an effort to tout the town. Oh, well, said the paper. The Inter Ocean would still be devoting some space to Ann Arbor in its Wednesday issue.

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Fix Your Sidewalks, People!!! 7/9/1880

Nowadays, we like to get irate over the state of our roads; indeed, the roads are in disrepair and are often quite dangerous. Back in the day, sidewalks were the issue. According to the Courier, people were paying $3,000-$10,000 PER LIMB for injuries! PER LIMB, people! Common Council had enough, they were done playing, and were now going to enforce the sidewalk ordinance. Presumably, Common Council then dropped the mic and walked out.

In other news, fall will be here soon (seriously? It’s only July!), the Courier reminded readers. “Lots of Ann Arbor sidewalks will convince you of this fact if you are incredulous,” the paper said. That’s all that was said on the matter, but I imagine they are making a greater comment on the sad, sad state of our walks.

The Courier also noted that it wasn’t half as much fun to take away the rubbish and trees on Monday as it was to get and fix them up last Friday. (Note: “Last Friday” was July 4th…not sure if that ties into this or not?)

Speaking of July 4th, it appears that Mr. Kemper’s house on Fifth Avenue (near the depot) caught fire from some sort of fireworks or firecrackers. Insurance was paid for damage done. So let’s recap that folks–within *five days*, insurance had already paid Mr. Kemper $12 to fix his roof! When my mom’s roof got hit by a tornado, it took weeks.

There was supposed to be a Common Council meeting last Monday (July 2nd), but the council members “were so patriotic that they failed to meet”. I don’t know if this was meant to be snarky or not, but if it was, I want to say that the Beal family would have made fine City Council Tweeters in this day and age!

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