Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Take a Drive with 1919 Ypsilanti Diarist Carrie Hardy from Ypsi to Ann Arbor--on a Route You Wouldn't Expect

Related to the ongoing serialization of Ypsilanti High School math teacher Carrie Hardy's 1919 diary.

Regular readers know that avid driver Carrie Hardy, as one reader noted, "certainly gets around." She took one of many trips to Ann Arbor last week. DD assumed this was just up Washtenaw. DD was probably totally wrong. The 1913 King's Official Route Guide stresses that the best route from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor was NOT via Washtenaw, but by a more northern route that was "mostly gravel." When DD learned that, she remembered that, at least from the Stadium split up into Ann Arbor, Washtenaw was a dirt road. It may have been dirt its entire length in Carrie's day--full of rocks, potholes, mud, washboard sections, and interminable choking dust.

Many Ypsi roads at the time were dirt--in fact, in July of 1919, just as we read of Carrie tooling around, the Ypsilanti City Council was all in a swidget about oiling the city roads.

There was talk of one Alderman oiling the road he lived on as other roads remained unoiled.

The oiling-men were accused of failing to oil streets in "the Negro district."

Oiling roads consisted of applying oil to dirt roads to tamp down the flying dust and dirt and make the road firmer.

For the July 7, 1919 Council meeting, "OILING OF STREETS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION AT PRESENT," noted a July 10 Ypsilanti Record article, at left.

Carrie didn't bother with the troublesome dirt roads on her jaunt to Ann Arbor--if she followed King's recommended route. Let's retrace it with her. Hop in!

The route starts at Huron and Michigan Ave. (Congress).

The guide points out the Masonic Temple (Riverside Arts Center) and the Ladies' Library on the right as landmarks.

After the curve, Huron's brick pavement ends at Cross Street, and Huron turns into a gravel road. You can see a legacy of Huron's brick paving just south of City Hall, on the east side of Huron. There's about 30 feet of brick-paved sidewalk still there.

Next landmarks are the Gas Company on the northeast side of Huron and Forest, and the city's forgotten second Freighthouse, this one not the familiar one near Depot Town once belonging to the Michigan Central Railroad company but one belonging to the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad company.

The next step is to cross the LS&MS tracks (but not the MCRR's) and continue past a mysterious "Standard Oil Tank," which is not depicted on this 1915 plat map.

A bit further, one passes the Peninsular Paper Mill, now demolished with the Peninsular Apartments in its place on the west side of LeForge (and another part of the apt. complex on the east).

The road begins to dip down as it does today near Superior Road. It follows Huron River Dr. to Old Dixboro Rd. For the last bit of our journey, we hop over to Ann Arbor Township.

The route turns onto Old Dixboro Road and goes downhill to a "dangerous R. R. at Geddes." Likely the train here was more dangerous than the previous LS&MS crossing because it is traveling fast between cities, and not slowed down to drop off and pick up passengers and freight. It is also interesting to note, if you glance at the river to the west, that there are no big lakes in Gallup Park--presumably the Dixboro dam was not yet built.

Up the hill, we arrive at Geddes and turn left, where there's a little school, now erased by US-23. If the school wasn't moved, perhaps there's a page or two of a McGuffey Reader or an arithmetic book far beneath the freeway concrete, from the vanished schoolhouse.

After crossing the bridge on Fuller (now near the public pool), we are in sight of the U-M buildings and the journey ends with a turn onto Wall Street and then Broadway. And we're there!

King's recommended route from Ann Arbor to Ypsi is the same in reverse, and there are no other routes listed that the guide recommends--neither Washtenaw nor Packard. Clearly, this was the best route, and most likely the one Carrie took on her trips to Ann Arbor. Thank you for coming along for this one!

The 1919 Diary of Ypsilanti High School Teacher Carrie Hardy

Part of a year-long weekly serialization of Ypsilanti high school math teacher Carrie Hardy's diary.

You may recall that Carrie had just bought her brother an Overland [1919 model pictured] from Nye Motor Sales with $500 of her Liberty war bonds. She took a drive to Ann Arbor and visited Belle Isle in Detroit as well.

June 28 Sat. Came home this morning. Am trying to clean the house. Miss Carr from Williamston called. A good visit. Took bath. Went downtown for groceries.

June 29 Sun. Went to church. After dinner Miss Shultes and I drove to Ann Arbor, then to Willis. Catherine Webb and Miss Carr called in evening. Catherine is to attend summer Normal. [perhaps the Catherine that Carrie noted last week "did not pass in school"; a student of Carrie's? Or the child of a friend?]

June 30 Mon. Went up to Normal this A.M. [for commencement exercises?] Came home, washed, and ironed. Miss Laird came in for 1 min. Catherine came in after supper. She is very discontented. Wrote a testimonial for Susan Platt.

July 1 Tues. Met my classes at Normal. Some shifting is to be done. Susan Platt called. The Backers moved out. Mrs. Jennings moved in. Alley Festa opens today-trimming for it. [Alley Festa was a sort of DIY community carnival-festival]

July 2 Wed. Pd. Milk + paper bills [presumably Carrie had home milk delivery to her apartment at 223 River St.]. Taught at Normal. Classes changed again 7-8, 1-3, 3-4. All classes in #54. Cleaned car and painted screens. Finished cap. Lillian's letter came. Went to Martha [Washington Theater, now Deja Vu].

July 3 Class at 7 o'clock-8. Classes from 1-4. Darned 5 prs. blk stockings. Let down gingham dress [as opposed to buying new stockings or a new gingham dress; perhaps Carrie was either thrifty or not paid as well as she'd like, or the culture at the time was less of a throwaway culture] Alley Festa was good. 2 letters + a card from Lillian.

July 4 Fri. Took Mrs. Webb and May in car, down town to see the parade. In booth at Alley Festa from 12-3:30. In evening attended Alley Festa with Mrs. Fletcher.

July 5 Sat. Cleaned bathroom + kitchen. Moved ice box to back porch [why? Did these early refrigerators, which were cabinets containing blocks of ice in a top compartment, become too drippy in an un-air-conditioned house in the summer? Also, it is likely Carrie had home ice delivery service at 223 River, in addition to milk and paper delivery]. Slept, bathed, hoed garden. 5 gals. of gasoline. May telephoned that Rob would not come Sun.

July 6 Sun. Did not go to church-feel mighty blue without reason. Did some cleaning + sewing. Wrote to Lillian in St. Paul. Rode in car to cemetery [According to information from Carrie's Bible, recorded on her father's obit card, Carrie's father had died July 16 four years before and was buried in (Union)-Udell Cemetery at Huron River Dr. & Textile Rd.; perhaps she visited his grave. Carrie's mother had died in 1874, which is probably the year Carrie was born; she may have died in childbirth. At the time of this diary writing, Carrie is around 44 years old.]

Thanks for reading; tune in next Tuesday for the next series!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer "Gleanings" Ypsilanti Historical Society Magazine is Out! 28 Pages (!) of Local Historical Tidbits!

Gleanings is out! And it's 28 pages! This is a good meaty issue, highlighted by (cough) two articles in particular. Stories include James Mann's account of the 3 paranormal investigations of the Ypsi Historical Museum, an account of a child who in 1941 got stuck in the Prospect Park cannon--all except for his hands sticking out--[read the article to find out how they removed him!]--and a history of the Chick-Inn drive-in that includes the lyrics of Detroit rock band the Gories' tribute song "Chick-Inn."

Makes you wonder if the Chick-Inn is the only restaurant in town to have been honored with its own actual song. Hmm...

(wresting self away from tangent) The Historical Society publishes Gleanings 4 times a year and welcomes article submissions from local writers. Have a cool idea for an article about Ypsi history? Please send it in! The address is at top of the form at left. Or if you'd just like to read it, Gleanings is available free at the Archives and at spots around town. Would you like a year's worth sent to your (Michigan or outstate) home? No problem--just send in a $10 year's membership; you can use the form above.

Membership has its privileges, let me tell you, though aside from getting Gleanings, they are of a somewhat intangible nature. But!--for example, the next time someone tries to tell you Iggy Pop was from Ann Arbor, you can merely elevate your eyebrows, cough slightly, and say, "Well, as a MEMBER of the Ypsilanti Historical Society, I happen to know..." That should stop such nonsense in its tracks, yessir. At any rate, though hundreds of copies of Gleanings were published (yours truly helped carry them down into the archives, fresh in boxes from the printer) they do go fast, so either send in a membership or grab your own copy today to enjoy!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

19 Tiny Artifacts (And Two Really Good Ones) Dug from Forgotten Ypsilanti Dump

Dusty Diary and a confederate excavated 19 artifacts from an old Ypsilanti dumpsite today. The dumpsite is forgotten, and neither named nor dated. When did these mysterious items, many years ago, first see daylight? It turns out they would see light three times.

A few twinkles of glass shards in the faint path made us bend down and start brushing clumps of grass aside. A warm sun shone down on the remote area. Nearby, a single daylily bloomed in the center of a weedy field, a possible descendant of lilies planted by a householder long ago.

One hawk swooped overhead, pursued by a tiny bird, as underneath it we pursued small fragments buried in the dirt.

Confederate found two small lumps of what looked like fools' gold mixed with coal. "This is slag. They were burning something here." The rocky bits twinkled. "Maybe they were burning the trash here." "Is slag the same as clinkers?" "What are clinkers?" "Clinkers are the burnt-out bits of cheap coal left over in a coal furnace." "Could be...look, there's another one. They were doing some burning here." "Well, maybe they were just throwing out the clinkers from the furnace because it was all burned out."

Between the two slag bits at left is a rusty industrial - style caster suggesting some factory dolly or cart. "It's rusted solid, so it's either iron or steel." Was it used in a local factory?

Many tiny ceramic and porcelain bits littered the site, most plain white.

The ceramic fragments at left do not represent those generally at the site, since a magpie factor influenced us to collect items that were particularly decorated, interesting, or patterned, like the one with a frilly red floral design at bottom.

When had they been thrown away? So far it was impossible to date the site. But today was the day when the objects were coming to light a second time, decades later, under our fingernails.

If the clinkers were coal remnants scooped out of furnaces, though, they were likely from Ypsilanti's era of home coal furnaces, which lasted at least into into the Depression.

We collected some pieces of colored glass. At top left is a tiny broken neck of a dark brown (medicine?) bottle.

Beneath it is the fanciest piece we found, of amber glass with an iridescent sheen. It shows a floral design on both of its sides, whose gentle curves suggested a bowl.

"At first I was thinking something like a cosmetics bowl, for face powder or something, but then you wouldn't see the design." "It'd be covered up." "So it's something where you see the design on the inside, like..." "A candy dish."

Underneath the floral glass is a shard of basketweave-patterned brown glass, and beneath it is another broken neck to a small brown bottle--except this one is distorted and melted.

Melted? This must have been some trash bonfire. Wait--could a bonfire actually melt glass?

Other glass pieces included, at far left, what appeared to be about half of a small round lid, a sturdy round handle suggesting a big glass jug, and a fancy faceted fragment that hinted at another decorative bowl. (Not pictured is a big round clear glass disc that may have been the bottom of a large jug).

The small white semicircle below them, apparently ceramic, gave us another hint about dating the site. Initially suggesting another bottle lip, the object revealed it was a broken electrical fuse, from the days of fuse boxes. Later it would prove difficult to pin down when fuse boxes began to be replaced by circuit breakers. 1960s?

The largest artifact was a 10-inch-tall brown bottle. Its neck was glossy like modern glass, but its body was matte, and distorted. Apparently it too had been partially melted--surely not in some trash bonfire! Had the site had an early trash incinerator? Something fiery enough to melt a sturdy brown bottle?

On front of the bottle is an oval embossed logo showing a bouquet of four roses. On back is the legend, "FEDERAL LAW FORBIDS SALE OR RE-USE OF THIS BOTTLE." On the front bottom is "4/5 QUART". On the foot underneath are the characters "O-11 96-47" and the capital letter I within a horizontal diamond backgrounded by a small vertical oval. It looks a lot like the bottle in this 1951 ad.

Confederate found the day's most exquisite and charming artifact: a dainty, plain glass bottle just as long as my pinky with a 1/4-inch opening in its threaded neck. Dusty D has found a similar bottle in her backyard years ago--if contained a glass pipe tapering to a point, suggesting a medicine applicator used to lightly dab a drop or two of some especially potent medicine onto a wound. Today's bottle, with its tiny neck, also suggests it contained some substance doled out in tiny quantities. Its lack of decoration hints that it contained an everyday substance, as opposed to something like a possibly more ornate perfume bottle. Was it a medicine that lurked in this small vessel? Considering that modern medicines in the drugstore are packaged in plastic (which only started to become common after WWII), is it pre-war? Who bought it, for what illness, and when?

This evening the artifacts, taken home and carefully cleaned with soap, finally came to light a third time, after their initial creation and much-later excavation.

I lifted up the scanner lid, laid them on the glass plate, and turned out all the lights in the room to get the black background I wanted. I pressed "SCAN" on the machine and watched the blue beam of scanner light start snailing across the plate.

As the beam passed the clear glass artifacts on top of the plate, the blue light refracted through, turning them into sapphires. The light changed the light brown glass into a glowing amber jewel. The beam's slow transit revealed the worthless bits' true nature, as jewels of the past. No wonder I'd been enchanted in a desolate weedfield. No wonder I'd patiently and carefully dug out the whiskey bottle with my small penknife. No wonder I'd gazed at the shards in my hand and longed to know who'd owned them. The light twinkled and sparkled through unwanted junk, pried from the dirt, and revealed it as topazes, opals, and rubies.

Fake Floors and Suspect Stoves: Enterprising Fraudsters of Ypsilanti's Past

Here's a li'l story Dusty D wrote about some shady entrepreneurs of Ypsi's past. Hope you like it!

Most counterfeiters combine practicality with talent by creating wallet-sized artworks both lucrative and portable. This sensible approach did not occur to two salesmen who hoodwinked a Ypsilanti housewife with a cumbersome fraud.

“Beware of the linoleum salesmen,” intoned the July 18, 1922 Daily Ypsilantian - Press, “who have a “few pieces” of linoleum extraordinary . . . that they’re perfectly willing to part with . . . The warning is sounded through Chief of Police Connors by Mrs. Henry Miner of North River Street, and by heeding the warning you are getting for nothing what it cost Mrs. Miner $8.50 to find out.”

A few days earlier Mrs. Miner had answered the door to find two well-dressed gentlemen. “They told her they were linoleum experts,” said the Press, “who had just finished laying a “big job” and they had a few pieces left over they would sacrifice. Two of these pieces they took into Mrs. Miner’s home and rolled out carefully on the floor. Perfect looks and a near fit. They quoted $12 on the outfit. Mrs. Miner protested that $12 was too much, and following considerable parleying a compromise at $8.50 was reached. Mrs. Miner paid and the men departed.”

Although linoleum is generally not complicated, “Mrs. Miner learned a lot of things about her linoleum that the salesmen had failed to tell. Principal of these reasons was that the linoleum was just a conglomeration of pretty colors stenciled on tar roofing paper and is worth about $1 to look at and nothing as a floor covering.” One wonders if Mrs. Miner, despite the deception, kept the fake linoleum in her home, to get her $1 worth.

Another fake covering peddled from door to door the following year was a “smooth top” to install over an open-burner gas range. Inventor J. G. Scott patented a smooth-top gas range in 1919. Its elegant flat metal cooking surface resembled a modern electric smooth-top range. The Ypsilanti street peddler was selling not this range but only a metal plate to fit over the standard open-burner gas range (electric stoves were almost unknown in 1923). The plate created the snazzy new smooth-top look. Unfortunately, it also wasted gas and filled homes with deadly carbon monoxide.

The peddler so alarmed the Ypsilanti City Gas Department that they bought a large display ad in the December 14 Daily Ypsilantian - Press. Titled “A Warning To Gas Users,” it says, “Recently there has been a man going about the city selling a smooth top to use on gas ranges, claiming a great reduction in the amount of gas used with this appliance, as against the ordinary open top range. As a matter of fact, this is not the case.” The ad quotes an excerpt from the trade publication The Gas Age-Record. To add even more authority to this excerpt, the city gas department says that its topic, smooth-tops, was “part of a discussion on unsafe Gas Appliances as discussed at the Baltimore Gas Convention.”

The excerpt says “A physician’s wife had suffered from headaches for a year and a test showed that the kitchen range was giving out 5.6 cu. Ft. of carbon monoxide per hour from four burners lighted. It was a range in which the grid top had been displaced by a solid top, which resulted in improper manner of supply of secondary air and inadequate provision for the escape of burned gases. When the solid top was removed and the grids put back there was proper aeration and no carbon monoxide was formed.” The ad explains that properly designed smooth-top stoves are safe but that the addition of a top to an open-burner stove was deadly. The ad ends with the phrase “A Word to the Wise is Sufficient,” having just spent 358 words in its warning.

A Daily Ypsilantian-Press story about the peddler concludes, “As one housewife put it: ‘If the women would only buy everything from reliable merchants instead of fooling themselves with the idea that they were saving something by patronizing the outside smooth-tongued artist, they would be better off and also save money.” Perhaps she took this lesson from the previous year’s summer, when Mrs. Miner had the linoleum pulled out from under her.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Old Ypsi Yearbooks for Sale: Unique Local Gift, Maybe for You!

The Archives has a number of interesting old Ypsi High School and Normal College yearbooks for sale, just marked down to $5 each. You can own a piece of local history -- maybe even find one with a relative's name (several have student-name indexes)!

These yearbooks, although unprepossessing on the outside, are full of charming tidbits and amusing features. You can learn a lot of the tenor of the time they were from just by gazing through them and soaking up the hairstyles, the various societies and organizations, and the funny remarks.

They're also a little bittersweet. The yearbooks range from 1901 till around mid-century. In the 1901 yearbook DD perused today, the young women's faces express individual characters ranging from sprightly and ebullient to reflective and somber. It was a little sad to think that they have all passed on.

But there was also a gem of humor in an ageless student voice: the 1901 Senior Will. It's copied here so you can read it in full but some of the highlights include:

"Second. We give, devise and bequeath unto the said Sophomores the interesting and exceedingly simple (?) text books, namely Wells' Geometry and Lange's German. Together with these books, we give, devise, and bequesath the two sweet and amiable teachers, Miss Hardy and Miss Bacon."

"...To the Sigma Deltas we bequeath, in lieu of their staunch and ever ready friend Mr. John Bishop, his luxuriant hair, as he will not be allowed to possess such wealth in Ann Arbor."

"Blanche McCarthy gives, devises and bequeaths to the clown and "King" of the High School, the "mitten" which has so often been given and taken back again."
[to "give him the mitten" was a slang term meaning to jilt an amorous gentleman, as in slapping his face with a mitten].

Readers of delicate sensibilities like Dusty D would be well advised to gently shield their eyes from Item the Last. I do hope the "r-word" contained therein refers to, of course, galoshes.

Ypsilanti's Mayflower Gourd: A Vegetable Mystery

"One of the historical artifacts I'd most like to find," said fellow volunteer B.B. today, "is Ypsilanti's Mayflower Gourd."

Mayflower gourd? Sure enough, this undated newspaper article discusses a gourd, made into a powderhorn, that came over on the Mayflower. It belonged to an ancestor of onetime Ypsilantian John Howland who once ran a tannery near the modern-day Michigan Ladder Co and old grain elevator on Forest Ave.

This was no ordinary gourd, mind you. It was "ornamented in silver" and may have resembled the historical reconstruction at right. It dates back to the early 1600s! This is an extremely special and venerable gourd--arguably Ypsilanti's most important gourd.

Not that you would really argue that with anyone, unless you were really hot-headed and passionate about Cucurbitaceae. Most people would probably be content to cede to this eminent vegetable the title of Ypsilanti's most historically significant gourd without much of a fight. And if not--hey, you wanna step outside? Huh?

This aged vegetable is rumored to still be in the possession of Howland descendants, several of whom live in the area. But who knows? This noble squash may surface someday, perhaps overlooked in an estate sale, perhaps as an item in a will, perhaps as a donation to the Ypsilanti Museum. Best to keep your eyes peeled and stay on alert for a sighting--fame will surely be yours if you find this vanished treasure.

The 1874 Diary of Ypsi Teen Allie McCullough

Part of a year-long weekly series of excerpts from Ypsilanti teenager Allie McCullough's 1874 diary, from the last year of her life.

You may remember that last week Allie helped put up decorations for a commencement ceremony, as the school year came to a close. She passed all her final exams and even got a 95 in Latin. Allie was also elected Vice President of the Lyceum for the next term.

June 26 Fri. Was examined in French and Geometry this forenoon. Passed both. In the afternoon I went up to school with the horses and took a lot of plants. Stayed there all the afternoon working and tying programs and making letters. The mottoes are very nice and the hall is trimmed beautiful. Jennie S. came home with me, then went back to hear the graduating exercises. They were very nice. Came home with Carrie N.

June 27 Sat. Went up to school this morning with the horses to get the plants. Stopped for Joe. All of the boys and girls were up there and we had a splendid time. Stayed almost all of the forenoon. Joe came home with me, then I went up town with her. Bought some nice bouquets. Joe told me something good that J.S. said about me. I have Joe's and Selinda's pictures.

June 28 Sun. Went to church in the morning, stayed to S. S. It is terrible warm. Read all of the afternoon. Went to Church at night. Carrie and D. came home with me. Did not stay. Go to [?] until real late.

June 29 Mon. Worked quite hard this morning and ironed my muslin this afternoon. Went up stairs, took off all that I could and laid down just for a nap, but I slept from two o'clock until five. Had just got off of the bed when Carrie N. came and I did not mave my hair combed and was not dressed, but she came upstairs while I dressed. We had a good talk.

June 30 Tues. Ironed some in the morning and sewed almost all of the afternoon. Went to the graduating exercises of the Normal in the evening. Had a very nice time. Sat with C. and D. The exercises did not amount to much. The hall was trimmed very nice.

July 1 Wed. Went to the graduating exercises this morning. They were very good. Got home about one o'clock. Carrie N. came home with me and stayed to dinner. Went up to Jennie Shipman in the afternoon. Had quite a good time, especially going and coming. Did not get home until real late. Received a work from J. J. S.

July 2 Thurs. Started early this morning for Cora Guy's. Got almost there when we met Mr. Guy and Ed. They were just moving. We went with them and got home about one, time for dinner. Joe N. made a call in the afternoon. Carrie N. came down.

July 2 Fri. Had a good deal of work to do today. Went up town in the afternoon to do the marketing. Carrie N. came down and wanted me to go up home with her to see the baby. Marion and I went after supper. It (the baby) is real nice. Everyone is busy with the Fourth. They have made beautiful arches across the streets and the stores and houses are decorated.

July 4 Sat. There was enough noise this morning. Got ready and went up to Joe's, then up to the Fairground. Had a delightful time but worked hard though. All of the soldiers came in our booth to eat and I had as much--as the rest of the girls. Mary Dugall came out in the morning and we all stayed up on the grounds until after the fire works. They were grand. Carrie N. was with me at the fire works.

July 5 Sun. Did not go to Church in the morning. Went riding in the afternoon and to Church tonight. Commenced a letter to Ida. Quite a good many of the Cadets stayed over night and are around town today.

Thanks for reading; tune in next Friday for another chapter!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

EMU Overlooks Magical Mystery Well in Preservation Award

EMU has just won an award for preserving the several historic buildings on its campus.

Now all they need to do is to bring back Tubal Cain Owen's magical curative water well, which he called "Atlantis." Its gigantic wooden derrick once towered above the spot where the old Roosevelt High School now stands on EMU's campus.

Tubal Cain Owen was not a man to do anything by half-measures. When he drilled for water and struck a vein of smelly reddish-brown liquid of questionable ingestibility, did he drill elsewhere? No! He marketed the heck out of it! Owen sold his water across the nation as a life-giving elixir--even as a cancer cure. It was Ypsilanti's golden age of dubious curative water, just shy of the turn of the century.

But the glowing testimonials festooning Owen's miracle beverage withered away with the 1906 Pure Food Act. Also, "local residents complained of the yelling of the patients at Owen's house of healing so the state condemned the property, claiming that the sanitarium posed “a serious menace to the social life of the Normal College,” allowing it to then “acquire” the land for the college's use. The Roosevelt Building was constructed on the site of the former Owen home as a high school for teacher training."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

During the Depression, Ypsilanti Bloomed

Anticipating by decades the exemplary efforts of Ypsilanti's Growing Hope and the community gardens in Recreation Park and Frog Island, during the Depression, Ypsilanti bloomed.

Led by indefatigable local social worker Inez Graves, Ypsilantians who owned vacant lots donated over 100 parcels to a citywide gardening effort. Families in need tended plots of tomatoes, peas, peppers, beans, lettuce, and took home healthy fresh food for the table that they otherwise could not afford to buy. Lots in the center of town were particularly desirable. "Few of the families in need of home gardens have means of transportation," notes this 1932 Ypsilanti Daily Press article, "and accordingly lots within the city limits, or at least close in, are greatly in demand."

That's right--the poor families in town had not even a means of transportation to get around. What they did have is the grit and persistence to coax from vacant property, kindly donated by owners, crops of healthy fresh food for their otherwise straitened families. "Families lived for months during the summer mainly from their gardens," notes the Press. "The food they canned served to augment their otherwise limited diet."

Dusty Diary admires the gumption and resourcefulness of these Depression-era gardeners, whose hard work provided for their families, and made our vacant lots bloom.

Ypsilanti's 1980s Boomer Days Celebrated Hobo & Railroad Culture

The erstwhile Ypsitucky Jamboree is not the first festival to stir up controversy in town. For several years in the 1980s Ypsilanti celebrated "our railroad heritage and the hey-day of bums, tramps, and hobos" with a weekend festival called Boomer Days. A "boomer" is slang for a hobo "always on the go--he has a travel itch."

The July, 1987 Depot Town Rag featured this R. Crumb-esque figure of a hobo and a full slate of family activities.

Kids could take part in a carp-fishing contest in Riverside Park, and adults could compete in the "Coronation of the Hobo Royalty," or vote for their favorite "bum" with spare change, at the Cricket Box, 19 E. Cross St. There was also a hobo art display and hobo fashion show.

A "Mulligan Stew-Off" offered local cooks the chance to try their hand at making an authentic hobo jungle stew. The prizes for the stew-off included an oak bench and a "country wreath" to add elegance to one's jungle camp.

The July 'Rag notes that the 1987 Boomer Days is the "8th Annual," but James Mann & Tom Dodd's popular book Down by the Depot says that the fest ran for only 6 summers. It continues, "The concept proved enormously popular until the advent of homelessness in America. While some citizens were sleeping on sidewalks in refrigerator boxes all winter, it seemed a bit rude to be celebrating such poverty in an annual summer festival and the concept was abandoned."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Am Much Gratified, That the Elephant’s Bones were Acceptable to You

Did you know that a collection of letters by Benjamin Franklin has been put online? And that you can search it for keywords such as "Ypsilanti" (nothin') or "Detroit"? Zowie! Here's one return from a "Detroit" search that surprised me, since I'd had no idea B. Franklin was involved so intimately with Native American affairs of the time:

Philada February 12th. 1768


I did myself the pleasure of writing to you on the 2d of October from Lancaster; And since my Return from meeting the Western Nations, I have had the Favor of your Letter of the 5th. August 1767. I am much gratified, That the Elephant’s Bones were acceptable to you; and with your opinion, on those Animals once inhabiting this part of the Globe. In my last, I mentioned to you, That I was then on my Journey to Fort Pitt and Detroit, In Order, if possible, to divert and divide the Indian Councils, for a While, as from the Intelligence which Sir Wm. Johnson and I had received, the Warriors of 12 Tribes, besides the Senecas were much incensed, That the Boundary had not been settled with them; and that they were then collecting in the Shawanese Country.

For your own full Information of the present Disposition Plan and Sentiments of the Indians, and their adjourning this general Meeting until the Spring, I beg leave to enclose you, a Copy of my Journal among Them; from whence you will perceive the very alarming and Critical Situation of Indian Affairs. Whilst the French retained Canada, The Indian Interest was divided, between Them and Us, and it Cost the British Nation, a large Sum of Money annualy, to preserve a considerable Part of the Tribes, in our Favor. But since the Peace, the Natives have been very attentive to their Situation and Especially, since their Hunting Country has been so shamefully encroached on, and no Notice has been taken of the Agreement, which Sir Wm. Johnson made with them about the Boundary. From whence, they conclude, as we have conquered the French, we intend to violate that Agreement, and possess their Country, without paying them for it.

This apprehension, has for near two years past, been very powerfully spreading from Tribe to Tribe and at last has produced a Resolution to settle all little Differences among themselves and to Unite as one Body, both to the Northward Westward and Southward in asserting their Rights and in revenging the Loss of their People and the unjust Settlement of their Lands.

It is unnecessary for me to dwell long on the present most critical State of Indian Affairs, As the respective Colonies are fully apprized of it and, doubtless, have in the strongest Terms represented it, to the Kings Ministers. But thus much give me leave to assure you, that if the Natives cannot be convinced of the Justice of the Nation, by immediately confirming the Boundary with them, we shall soon be involved in the most general and distressing War with them, that America has ever felt. I am just returned from Sir Wm. Johnsons and am very sorry to inform you, that One Stump and his Servant have lately in a very inhuman manner murdered ten Indians on Susquehanna. They were some of them Six Nations and others Delawares. This is a most unfortunate affair and it’s Consequences are greatly to be feared, But it evidently shews the indispensible Necessity of the Indians being removed to a greater Distance from our Settlements, and which suffer me to say, can only be done, by fixing the Boundary with them. Nothing Else will do. The many Murders committed on Indians in and on the Frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia and no one being Ever punished for them, cannot fail of exciting in the Minds of the Natives, the most unfavorable opinion of the Justice and Strength of the Government and in its Effects must be extremely prejudicial to the Kings general Interest in America.

I am much Surprized, what could be the Kings Ministers Reasons for ordering Sir Wm. Johnson to treat with the Indians, for this Boundary and then to suffer it to lie so long unsettled. Surely it cannot be the Expence? For to my Knowledge, it has absolutely cost the Crown within the two last Years, as much in presents, to keep the Indians easy on this Head, as would have ratified it and have paid them, for all the Country they are willing to Cede within it. Besides it is a necessary and preparitory Step to be taken, before we Ever can pretend to form any Colonies either at the Illinois or Detroit.

Sir Wm. Johnson is to have a conference Early this Spring with all the Six Nations, In order to settle a Peace between Them and the Southern Indians (the Deputys from whom, I left at his House) and to divide them and hinder them from going to the Western Meeting, at which Congress I am, sure, He will do Every thing in his Power to make them easy a little while longer.

I daily look for orders to go Myself immediately to Fort Pitt and there to call all the Western Nations together—that so we may, if possible, divide their Councils, and hinder the intended Meeting of the Western and Northern Indians, as is particularly mention’d in my Journal. But should the Kings orders not arrive before the breaking up of these two Conferences (which we will endeavour to hold as long as possible for the Purpose) for ratifying this Boundary, as the People who are settled on the Indian Lands cannot, you may be assured, (notwithstanding the Law of this Province) be removed. All the Expences incurred at these two general Meetings will be entirely thrown away. As nothing, I am confident (and so it is the opinion of the Chiefs of all the Indians) will remove their Jealousys and Spirit of Revenge, But the Establishment of this Boundary.

I have Sir expressed myself with much plainness to you, As the Subject demands it, therefore I cannot hereafter have Cause to blame myself, for a Remissness of Duty. I am very respectfully Sir Your most obedient and humble Servant.
To Benjamin Franklin Esqr.
Endorsed: Philada. Febry 12 1768 Copy of my Letter to Doctor Franklin. 1 Copy—Went Under Cover to Richd. Neave of London, by way of Londonderry. and 1 Copy with the Journal went from New York.

"Like a Bomb of a Life-Saving Station": In Action!

Kind readers may recall the recent post about the awe-inducing strength of Ypsilanti's water system.

The engineers and spectators at the Cross Street bridge that day were out to test the strength of the system. First was a test of how far the water could spray horizontally.

"A plug was fastened to the end of a long tape-line, and inserted in the nozzle of the hydrant. At the word, water was turned on, and away shot the plug, leading out the line like a bomb of a life saving station"

Well, what do you know but one kind reader kindly sent in photos of just such a life-saving station! And bomb!

Turns out it's a missile shot by a cannon and connected to a rope, neatly stored on a pegboard.

Presumably, the sorta-ancient mariner, pictured, is trained to not actually strike the unfortunate drowning person with the missile...kinda defeats the purpose, there. But anyways, enjoy these pix, thanks to our kind reader!

The 1919 Diary of Ypsilanti High School Teacher Carrie Hardy

Part of a year-long weekly serialization of Ypsilanti high school math teacher Carrie Hardy's diary.

You may recall that Carrie was writing report cards and preparing for the close of the school year. She also was worried about her brother Rob, and took a break with a little trip to Belle Isle in Detroit.

June 21 Sat. Bad day all round. Felt sad and depressed all day. Went down town and did a little shopping. Also prepared to go to Detroit.

June 22 Sun. Up early and drove to Detroit. May, the children + I drove to Belle Isle by way of the Blvd. Rob not very well. Catherine did not pass in school.

June 23 Mon. With Mrs. Curtis, May, the children & Gladys drove to the East side. Gladys & Catherine to visit a friend. May, Robert & I went for Rob after work. Car fine. Rob better.

June 24 Tues. Came home this morning. Hate to leave Rob. Bro't some croqueting home to do for May. Feel "bum." Two letters from Lillian. Miss Laird over.

June 25 Wed. Washed and ironed. Crocheted. In evening my car would not start. Went down to Nye Motor Sales Co. and bargained for an Overland for Rob. No letter from Lillian.

June 26 Thurs. Paid $500 Liberty Bonds for Rob's Overland. Hear from Lillian nearly every day. Took Rob's Overland done to him. He was very much pleased. Cried. He drove on the B'lv'd.

June 27 Fri. Rob took the car out of the barn alone & drove out to his work with all of us in. I drove back. Helped May with her work + went for Rob in evening. He drove us all home.

June 28 Sat. Came home this morning. Am trying to clean the house. Miss Carr from Williamston called. A good visit. Took bath. Went downtown for groceries.

June 29 Sun. Went to church. After dinner Miss Scultes and I drove to Ann Arbor, then to Willis. Catherine Webb and Miss Carr called in evening. Catherine is to attend summer Normal.

Thanks for reading; tune in next Tuesday for the next series!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ypsilanti Children Toil in Fields Under Henry Ford's Benevolent Gaze

Kind readers, do you have small children underfoot now that school is out? At your wit's end thinking of things for them to do?

Why not do what your Ypsilantian predecessors did--put them to work as fieldhands for the "motor magnate"?

Merely dig up your lawn for a 40 by 67-foot plot--one plot PER child, that is--and hand them some seed packets, preferably from R. H. Shumway, Dusty Diary's favorite ol'-timey seed purveyor. Print out and show them this 1932 Ypsilanti Daily Press article attesting that past Ypsi kids grew heaping wagonloads of radishes, onions, lettuce, spinach, beans, and beets--enough for 42 families in the Willow Run area!

Your role is easy--merely supervise your toddlers from the shade of a nearby tree as they weed down the long rows under the blistering sun. Periodically call out "One more row before lemonade!" In just a few months of back-breaking toil, you should have delicious vegetables for your table!

Henry Ford would have approved, to see such youthful industry. Now get those freeloadin' kids outside and make 'em start up the rototiller!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Man Held Aloft on Mighty Geyser of Water from Ypsilanti Water Works, 1890

Kind readers may have understandably scoffed when Dusty D recently informed them that Ypsilanti's 1898 water system was one of the best in the state. "Poppycock!" they may have muttered, "they couldn't even bill people sanely." Dusty D understands the skepticism, but what if I told you the water was so pure it cured kidney ailments, allegedly, and so mighty it could keep a man aloft on its Old Faithful-like stream? The latter is precisely what happened in March of 1890, as recorded by the Ypsi Sentinel. Doubters, take heed.

"An interesting exhibition of the water works was given a short time since at the Cross Street Bridge," notes the article. At the time, pipes for hooking up people were spreading out through the city, and in the previous summer, the first house had been connected: the Cornwell House at 203 N. Huron [now Beyer Apartments].
View Larger Map

The engineers and spectators at the Cross Street bridge that day were out to test the strength of the system. First was a test of how far the water could spray horizontally. "A plug was fastened to the end of a long tape-line, and inserted in the nozzle of the hydrant. At the word, water was turned on, and away shot the plug, leading out the line like a bomb of a life saving station" [a rope lifeline "shot" to, e.g., someone drowning]. The amazing distance of 175 feet, six and five-eighths inches was recorded. The crowd cheered and clapped.

Now for the vertical test. The engineers pointed the nozzle straight up. "The same plug and string were used, but the plug fell off on the ascent, and the exact measurement was lost." Oh, no!

"The engineer was not to be foiled, however. Detaching the plug, and taking the end of the line between his teeth, he grasped the ascending column of water, and up he shot to the height of one hundred and fifty feet, at which point, the ascending stream began to fall back." From his roaring, foamy perch, the gutsy engineer got a blurry glimpse of the city, far below, through a shimmering rainbow.

"When his assistant below saw that his ascent was stopped, he marked the line, sang out "ALL RIGHT!" and the daring climber slid down the column of water as gracefully as ever a sailor came down a rope from a mast-head."

Now, THIS was the caliber of the dauntless, resourceful, adventurous men who built our water system in 1898. Surely no one can now doubt its excellence. A tip of the hard hat to the engineers who gave Ypsilanti this awe-inspiring system of renown.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Allie's World: Unlimited Whiffletrees

Related to the ongoing serialization of 1874 Ypsilanti teen Allie McCullough's diary.

Kind readers may remember a discussion of how streets in Allie's neighborhood got their names. One was Parsons street, named for "a local businessman." This was Samuel W. Parsons, who in Allie's day co-owned the "Parsons Brothers Sash, Door & Blind Factory & Lumber Yard." The factory was close to Allie's home at 6 W. Michigan Ave. [now Angel Food Catering], and to her dad's foundry at Water Street and Michigan Ave. Allie could probably see the Parsons Brothers factory from her house.

An 1874 business directory listing says the factory's "machinery is all first class and is driven by an engine of 25 horse power. Here are made dressed lumber, sash, doors, blinds, moldings, scroll work, casings...1,500 Monitor [wooden tub-style] washing machines, 500 dozens axe handles, 75 gross of baseball bats, and neck yokes, whiffletrees, stone-cutters, mallets etc. etc. in an almost unlimited number."

A whiffle tree is a pivoted swinging bar between a horse and a wagon. It connects the horse's traces, and pulling power, to the wagon body. To "whiffle" used to mean to waffle, or vacillate in one's opinions--much as the bar swings to accommodate the horse's motion. You may remember that in the last diary excerpt Allie "went up to school with the horses" to deliver some plants--she may have been sitting right above a whiffletree.

And if Ypsi had a city or Normal School baseball team back then, perhaps it was Parsons Bros. who made their bats for them. Oddly enough, there's an abandoned baseball field nearby Parsons Street and the Water Street area, just to the south in a seldom-visited park. Maybe vanished players on this forgotten field once swung some Parsons bats too.

The 1874 Diary of Ypsi Teen Allie McCullough

Part of a year-long weekly series of excerpts from Ypsilanti teenager Allie McCullough's 1874 diary, from the last year of her life.

You may remember that last week Allie had a smash success reading her essay, "Step by Step," at the Lyceum, and received many congratulatory bouquets. She went boat riding and was sorry to see a favorite uncle, Uncle Robert, leave after a visit.

June 19 Fri. There was a meeting of the Lyceum after school tonight so I did not get home until real late in the afternoon. Then I had to go up town. Got ready and went to Lyceum. It adjourned to go to Public Zealots. Went there. Got a seat near Carrie. Went to Stebbs and had ice cream. All of the folks went up to Ann Arbor today and Joe went home in the evening.

June 20 Sat. It is terrible warm. Went up to school about four o'clock. While there it rained. We had a glorious time. When I went home I stopped in Joe's, had a good talk and she went down town with me. Had candy tonight and a good time.

June 21 Sun. Did not go out of the house today, but read and slept almost all of the time. It is very warm. Clara is sick; Charlie not very well.

June 22 Mon. Stayed after school at night, down in the basement to help them make wreaths for the Chapel. Had a glorious time. Did not get home until they had got through eating supper. Tore my dress in front, put a band on my over shirt and did some other work. Charlie and Will have gone up to Ann Arbor.

June 23 Tues. Stayed after school tonight. Did not have as much fun as before, but more in the school hours. Went over to the depot after school. Got there just as the train started but I saw them all and waved them my goodbye.

June 24 Wed. Stayed after school tonight until after six o'clock. Had ever so much fun. John and Fannie were not there, but were gone up to Ann Arbor to the University Commencement. They came though before we came away and I think John and Fannie especially are nice.

June 25 Thurs. Was examined in Latin. Passed 95. Had a magnificent time after school. Helped for the programs. Did not get home until seven o'clock. Then I had supper and dressed myself for the Lyceum. Had a nice time. Am elected Vice President for the next term. (Got a drink) (Climbing fences) (Dove)

June 26 Fri. Was examined in French and Geometry this forenoon. Passed both. In the afternoon I went up to school with the horses and took a lot of plants. Stayed there all the afternoon working and tying programs and making letters. The mottoes are very nice and the hall is trimmed beautiful. Jennie S. came home with me, then went back to hear the graduating exercises. They were very nice. Came home with Carrie N.

June 27 Sat. Went up to school this morning with the horses to get the plants. Stopped for Joe. All of the boys and girls were up there and we had a splendid time. Stayed almost all of the forenoon. Joe came home with me, then I went up town with her. Bought some nice bouquets. Joe told me something good that J.S. said about me. I have Joe's and Selinda's pictures.

June 28 Sun. Went to church in the morning, stayed to S. S. It is terrible warm. Read all of the afternoon. Went to Church at night. Carrie and D. came home with me. Did not stay. Go to [?] until real late.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

1898 Ypsilanti Water Works: "If You've Got a Barber Chair, A Public Bath Tub, and a Cow, That'll Be Extra"

Ypsilanti was known for having a good municipal water service, inaugurated in 1898. Three years later, the system had 900 connections serving 4,500 customers, out of a population of 6,000 (75% of residents). To compare, Kalamazoo's system at that time was 24 years old and only served 9,000 of its 23,000 residents (39%). The 1892 Michigan Engineer notes, "Four fifths of all the water works systems in the country are of this inferior type." In contrast, Ypsi offered good service and good water quality. It was housed in the former Cornwell Paper Mill building, at Stewart Street and the river, near Factory St. & Grove.

If the service was efficient, the billing system was anything but. The company used water meters for customers, but also tacked on a Byzantine array of extra charges depending on your water use. For example, if you signed up for the "lawn sprinkling" option, you were strictly prohibited from using this allotment for your garden (unless you also signed up for the extra "garden" option). Oh, and you could ONLY sprinkle your lawn from 5:30 to 8 a.m. or 5 to 7:30 p.m., with a hand-held hose NO WIDER than 3/4 inch WITH nozzle. If you didn't like hand-sprinkling, use of a mechanical sprinkler was $1 extra PER SPRINKLER, on TOP of the initial charge for...gahh! [head explodes]

You had better pin down precisely what type of toilet you had before signing up. Private pan? Flowing? Self-closing? Private automatic closing urinal? Single acting valve? Double acting valve?

Manufacturers with 10 employees or under were charged $5, but offices with only 4 employees or under were charged the same, for cryptic reasons.

Why were billiard halls charged per pool table, and not per restroom/faucet fixture? Another mystery.

Oh, and it looks as though in the entire dwelling house, which I take to mean private residence, there was usually only ONE faucet total in the entire building, and that in the kitchen.

Presumably each barber chair had its own sink, as today. They also apparently had "public bath tubs." DD will pass on that, thank you.

Phew. Imagine being the bookkeeper for the Ypsilanti Water Works! And now it's time to go make some lemonade with one of the TWO luxurious hot AND cold faucets in the house and go water the gar--er, I mean, lightly sprinkle the lawn. Just a little lawn-sprinkling, officer, that's all. With a regulation hose, see?