Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Favorite Artifact with Lisa Bashert

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Past and Present, N. Huron Police Station (1941)


Friday, February 25, 2011

Black Ypsilantian Oran Histories

Last in a Friday series of oral histories by black Ypsilantians collected in 1980 and 1981 by former local historian and EMU professor A. P. Marshall (pictured), and reprinted in honor of Black History Month. Taken as a whole, the histories show a different and sometimes unpleasant side of the city, as experienced by some residents.

Marshall: What is your name?

Richardson: Samuel Asa Richardson. I was named after both of my grandfathers. My mother's father was named Samuel and my father's father was named Asa.

M: Can you tell me something about your mother's father?

R: His name was Samuel Bass. Some white people brought him to Maine from the south and used him for a houseboy. They didn't treat him as a slave though; he was treated like one of the family. He met a girl from Scotland named Margaret McGinnis. They moved to Chatham, Ontario and that's where my mother was born. The town where she was actually born was called Charing Cross, which was in Chatham Township. My father was born in Dresden, Ontario. His name was Joseph Henry Richardson. I had a lot of relatives in that area. They put all of their belongings on a wagon and got on the ferry along with their cows and horses. At that time, there were no visas you could go across the border anytime you wanted. They moved to Ypsilanti and rented a place on Second Avenue, but they were farmers, so they bought a farm on Merritt and Hitchingham Roads. Mr. Merritt lived on one corner and my grandfather lived on the other corner (the southwest side). They kept that farm until Mr. Merritt wanted to buy it from the so he could expand. They sold it to him and bought another place on Judd and Hitchingham Roads. My Uncle Dick bought another stretch of about 20 acres that had a log cabin on it. My grandfather lived about 200 feet away and that's where he stayed until he died. My grandmother came to town and lived in a little place that he bought for her.

M: Then you've lived in Ypsilanti almost your whole life.

R: Yes. I was a baby when they brought me here. My father built a house on Monroe Street. I heard him tell about how much it cost him to dig his basement. he paid a fellow $5 to dig it and he and his brother-in-law did it in one day. The fellow's name was Dick Morton. The Mortons were related to the Kerseys. Mr. Morton was the finest carpenter you could ever find. He taught his sons the trade, but they weren't as good as him. He was known for building beautiful stairways. He and my father were quite good friends. my father was a plasterer and he would plaster the houses after Mr. Morton was finished. He plastered almost all of the houses in Ypsilanti. Jerry Mahaley and my father used to help each other. If one of them didn't have a job, they would switch back and forth. That's how people lived in those days.

M: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

R: I had a sister named Mildred Theoral. She died at a young age. There was a flu epidemic at the end of the war.

M: What year were you born?

R: I was born on February 17, 1900.

M: Can you tell me about your school days growing up in Ypsilanti?

R: We went to the Adams Street School next to the Methodist Church. They had four grades there. A black woman named Mrs. Wise taught first and second grades and Miss Alexander taught third and fourth grades. Mrs. Wise wasn't there at first, so Miss Alexander taught all four grades. When we finished there, we went to Woodruff School. We spent three years there. In seventh grade, we went to the Central School (the old high school). After high school, I went to Michigan State Normal College for almost two years. I quit school because I had a chance to take an apprenticeship. When I finished my apprenticeship, I spent a summer at the University of Michigan taking classes for Mortuary Science. We had almost all of the classes that a doctor would have only on a smaller scale.

M: When you decided to take up Mortuary Science, were there any other Negro morticians around?

R: No. A fellow in Flint and myself were the first two Negros in this part of the state. There were a lot of them in Detroit though. Before that, white folks took care of the Negroes.

M: What year did you open your business?

R: I opened it in 1924. In 1974, they gave me a recognition ceremony in Grand Rapids for my 50th year. I've taken it on for another six years too.

M: Were you already in business when you married?

R: Yes.

M: Then your wife came into the business with you.

R: Yes.

M: What happened after your break-up?

R: Judge Breakey told her that she could operate in my place. Before that, when I'd get a call, she'd insult the people if she couldn't get the business and talk sweet to them if she could. She was just terrible. We couldn't live like that, so she applied for a divorce. There was a minister here that was pushing her. He was helping her to get the business from me. She got me in court, but I wouldn't sign for a divorce for five years. She used a total lie to get the divorce. He just let her stay there and it got so people didn't even know me anymore. They had lost track of me. We had to move her out of there. She tried to get the place but couldn't. The just would have let her stay there for another five years, but she lost to him under son's conditions. She took it to the Michigan Supreme Court, but they threw her out on the third day. She moved around from place to place and was building a place at the same time. People started dying like flies and she was doing a wonderful business. She didn't have any competition and I wouldn't compete against her. I moved to Detroit and opened up a place down there. I had a partner that didn't have a license. He worked at the morgue and could get all of those cases. I thought it was a pretty good opportunity to join with him, but he started putting his name down as funeral director and they could have me put in jail for that.

M: Was your wife married to someone else before you?

R: She was married to Terrance Davis. She had four children by him: Bud, Nonnie, Paul, & Clarence. Clarence was killed in Puerto Rico.

M: Did you and she have any children?

R: We had two children. My son Joe has a liquor store where Washington and Harriet meet at the top of the hill. Clement, my other son, died 12 or 15 years ago.

M: After you and your wife divorced, did she marry again?

R: Yes. She married Clement Mills from Detroit. He's a postal man.

M: During this time, I'm sure there were several efforts by Negroes to start businesses.

R: Yes. Harry Newton had a grocery store and he did a fine business. It was a meat market, an ice cream parlor, and a grocery store.

M: What street was that on?

R: It was on Monroe and Huron. I worked for him when he was in business, and then when he went out of business, he worked for me! I had a large apaprtment house that I renovated. Harry had a son named Ensie that is living now.

M: Did you know Solomon Bow? He was in the house moving business.

R: I knew him. He also had two tobacco houses, one of each side of the driveway where I lived. He had a barn for the horses too.

M: Solomon Bow also had a grocery store back around 1880.

R: That's what I heard. I know that they had a bakery shop in the house where I lived. Solomon lived there until he died. His son in Buffalo, his Uncle Egbert, and my father bought the house from him. They also bought all of his equipment and Egbert and my father went into the house moving business. My father bought a number of lots on Jefferson nd Madison. People were building new homes, so my father would buy their old homes and move them to his lots. He was in the real estate business before that, but he didn't have a license. George Hayes, who had a grocery store and was a mayor here at one time, told him that he should get his liecense, so my father got his license.

M: hHe was probably the first black in Ypsilanti to practice.

R: Yes he was. There was another man named Al Anderson who came along a little bit later.

M: What were the barber businesses that you remember?

R: There was a barber named Isiah Norris. His shop was in the alley behind Michigan Avenue.

M: Were his clients white or black?

R: They were black. Ann Arbor was different though. There were three or four black barbers that had white clients.

M: Did you know James Clark?

R: He was the richest Negro in Ypsilanti. He owned a saloon downtown.

M: Do you remember any businesses downtown?

R: John White had a cobbler shop under the Ypsilanti Savings Bank [now City Hall]. On the other side of Michigan Avenue, Sledge had a tailoring shop. Across the street, Lee Freeman had a pool room. It used to be a restaurant called the Greasy Spoon. John's Liquor Store was on the corner right across from the bank. Barn Tanner had a secondhand store on Huron Street. Dr. Dickson and Dr. Perry both had offices on Huron Street too.

M: Did you know Barney Jakes?

R: He was a white man, but he had a black wife.

M: As far back as before the Civil War, there have been mixed couples living in Ypsilanti.

R: Yes. Will Long had a white wife. My gradndfather Bass had a white wife too. His wife was from England. Alfred Davis' wife had mixed parents too.

M: I get the impression that Ypsilanti was not a bad place for Negroes in comparison with other places just past the turn of the century.

R: Yes, but it was still segregated.

M: From World War One to World War Two, things seemed to get a little bit worse.

R: Yes. It wasn't good there for a while.

* * * * * * * *

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ypsilanti's Venerable Ark

Old Noah built himself an ark,

There's one wide river to cross!

He built it out of hickory bark,

There's one wide river to cross!




There's one wide river,

And that wide river is Jordan,

There's one wide river,

There's one wide river to cross.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Curiosity at the Opera House: A "Real, Full-Blooded Indian."

"A real, full-blooded Indian is one of the acts at the Ypsilanti opera house this week. Mr. Deer was 12 years with Buffalo Bill as chief of the Iroquois Indians and was with him in the holy land.

"Another turn that is especially good is that by Le Jess team of contortionists and acrobats who are said to be absolutely without a bone in their bodies. Le Jess manages someway to get in a box 18 inches square and have room enough left for two dozen pint bottles.

"The pictures are good and the songs unusually attractive this week and altogether the bill is a remarkably good one.

"Friday night will be Detroit vaudeville night and on Saturday evening an extra large vaudeville bill will be presented."

--Ypsilanti Daily Press,
February 25, 1909.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The 1890 Diary of Abba Owen

Newest chapter in an ongoing serialization of the 1888 diary of Abba Owen, daughter of Ypsilanti mineral water baron Tubal Cain Owen and Anna (Stowe Foote) Owen. The Owens lived in a now-vanished house near the current day Roosevelt School building on EMU, where Tubal also had his magical and very profitable well.

Saturday Feb. 15: A very pleasant day. Papa and Rick returned from Chicago last night, brought me three large gold fish and a female canary and brought himself a beautiful singer. They had a lovely time. John whiting and his roommate Mr. St. Clair came from A.A. this morning. mama went to the Opera house to have the dress rehearsal to-night.

Sunday Feb. 16: A pleasant and warm [day]. John + Mr. St. Clair stayed until 9:30 this evening.

Monday Feb. 17: Rick + I went over to M. G. to get weed for fish a.m. Mama and I went down town all the afternoon attending to District School business and coming home we got caught in a shower which was just like a spring shower. John Whiting and Mr. St. Clair came down on the six o'clock train so as to go to-night. The Opera House was full and a great many could not get in so they are going to repeat it tomorrow night. It was splendid and we all enjoyed it. Mama was behind the scenes and as we all went down early John and I went behind the scenes and viewed things before they commenced. John and Mr. St. Clair went home at twelve.

Tuesday Feb. 18th: It is a good deal colder to-day. I had a cold + did not go to the Sappho but mama did. Eber came down from A.A. this eve so as to go to the District School. I went down with Mama and stayed behind the scenes with her. Mr. & Mrs. Syman of Chicago are visiting this forenoon and Mr. Syman to part in the D.S. and her husband did not know anything about it until last Saturday night he went with Mrs. Towner to the dress rehearsal and saw his wife come on to the stage in short dress and pantelettes as all the rest were and of course it was a great surprise to him and Mr. Park also took part and his wife thought he looked dreadful so to-night Mrs. Park + Mr. Syman blacked up as darkies and came out and sang "Way down upon the Swanee River" and "Git away from that window" and danced and no one knew that they were going to do it. Mrs. Syman and Mr. Peck were completely surprised. All the seats were taken down stairs and a good many in the gallery.

Wensday Feb. 19: I wrote last Monday for an aquarium for the fish papa brought one and it came to-day and I have my fish in it, and it is very pretty.

Thursday Feb. 20: The thermometer is below freezing to-day. mama made out her report to-day and found that they cleared $81o.95 more than has ever [been] made before by one entertainment. Mama went to Society this afternoon read her report and they were very much pleased. Mr. Suderer came to-night instead of last Monday.

Friday Feb. 21: It has been quite cold. mama and I went down to Grandma's and spent the afternoon and the men folks came down to tea. Eber came home this morning. Received a letter from A. P.

Saturday Feb. 22: It has been very pleasant. Washington's Birthday and the Light Guards were out on parade. Mr. Joe Sanders the Clothier dropped dead as he reached his store door after dinner of heart disease.

Tune in next Tuesday for another look at Abba's doings.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Past and Present: 38 N Huron


Friday, February 18, 2011

Black Ypsilantian Oral Histories

Third in a Friday series of oral histories by black Ypsilantians collected in 1980 and 1981 by former local historian and EMU professor A. P. Marshall (pictured), and reprinted in honor of Black History Month. Taken as a whole, the histories show a different and sometimes unpleasant side of the city, as experienced by some residents.

Black entrepreneur Thelma Goodman, the mother of Ypsilanti's first black mayor George Goodman, discusses the circumstances that led rise to her opening a fashion center for the black community.

Marshall: Your business lasted some twenty years in Ypsilanti. How did it get started?

Goodman: At the beginning of it, many of our women were going to work at the Ford factory. I had never been in a factory, and I didn't have any desire to get a job there. Shortly after the depression, I decided to get into something other than the factory.

"I had a friend, Mrs. Beatrice Butler, who was associated with beauty work and merchandise and she informed me where to go to make contacts for millinery goods. I first started buying hats without my husband's knowledge, and canvassing people like a salesperson in Willow Village. That's where I first started working. It grew fairly rapidly, and finally I had to open up and tell my husband about it.

"Once he found out, there wasn't much he could do since I had already started. Then we set up Goodman's shop in the basement of our home. I hired two or three dressmakers besides myself, two or three beauticians (Mrs. Virginia Smith, manager, Mrs. Fanny Perry, Mrs. Charles Davis), and a corsetier (Mrs. Frankie Nelson). We had a staff headed by Mrs. Daisy Sanders, who knew how to make someone beautiful.

"We did fairly well here in the basement and we were growing. My husband said that we should try to get a shop. Money was scarce, and we didn't know how we were going to get through. I had heard that there was such a thing as borrowing from the bank, so we borrowed some money to start the building at 415 Harriet Street. We were among the first Negroes, as far as we knew, to borrow money from a bank without a great deal of capital. Moses Bass, Sr. and all his boys, including Sam, built the building for us in 1947.

"We had a beautiful opening, receiving flowers and telegrams. We did quite well. For the time, this was the first black merchant's store with new merchandise.

"Negro women were not permitted to try on a dress in Ypsilanti. My object was to have a place where they could try on dresses in Ypsilanti.

"Having worked at Crowley's for 2 and 1/2 years from 1929, I knew clothes. I knew how to aid people so that they could look their very best in whatever they purchased. We were on Harriet Street for twenty years. It is a field that I enjoyed and we think that we did fairly well for black people. Later on, the street down by Hall's barbershop was named Goodman by Amos Washington. We were able to outfit women completely in the store, and we only had a few bad checks slide by.

"At that time, such things as fashion centers were not known in Ypsilanti or even Detroit. We were one of the first when we established Goodman's Fashion Center. We sold everything except shoes, and we even ordered them. Our center consisted of an office, serving room, fitting room, a very large floor space, two large show windows, three side windows, a beauty salon, and a four room apartment."

* * * * * * *

Scottish Blood in my Family Tree

So I'm doodling around in ancestry.com as I like to do in the evenings, slowly working on my family tree. My Mom's side is a Dutch branch and my Dad's side are longtime Maryland-area settlers. So I'm tracing back my dad's side, and a lot of branches peter out.

Then I find James Murray (1665-1704), grandfather to the second wife, Mary Hanson, of my Revolutionary soldier ancestor Major Thomas Rutter (okay, bragging a bit, there).

James Murray was born in Scotland. He is the great grandfather of the wife of my 6th great grandfather. James came to this country sometime before 1676, apparently due to a political-religious dispute. I'll pin that down later.

Then I read this: "James was born 1665 in Tullebardine, Scotland. The LDS ancestral file lists his father as John Murray, the Marquess of Atholl, and his mother as Jane McClean. Both of these people were descended from the Kings and Queens of Scotland, England, and much of Europe. The Morays or Murrays, of Tullebardine, were one of the most powerful of the Highland families of Scotland."

Jesus. Do you mean to tell me there is royalty in my family history?!

So I keep digging. Suddenly the record becomes well documented, though we're going farther and farther into the past and all the other branches of my family tree have faded away.

Then I find SIR--yes, SIR William Tullibardine Murray (1535-1583). Dude's got a frickin' family CREST. THERE'S A BLOOMIN' SCOTTISH NOBLEMAN IN MY FAMILY TREE. Sir William Tullibardine Murray is the 6th great grandfather of the wife of my 6th great grandfather.

So I scamper to Wikipedia. Lo and behold. "The Dukes of Atholl belong to an ancient Scottish family. Sir William Murray of Castleton married Lady Margaret, daughter of John Stewart, 1st Earl of Atholl (see Earl of Atholl). Sir William was one of the many Scottish noblemen killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. His son Sir William Murray lived at Tullibardine in Perthshire. The latter's grandson, Sir John Murray, was created Lord Murray of Tullibardine in 1604 and Lord Murray, Gask and Balquhidder and Earl of Tullibardine in 1606."

I'm the scruffiest, laziest, most slobular person I know...but...but...I have a tiny teeny drop of noble Scottish blood?

Good Christ.

No wonder I feel such affinity for Ypsilanti Scottish poet-farmer William Lambie--I am his brother in having (a bit of) Scottish blood!

I ain't saying this to be a braggy-pants. I also found a slaveowner in my ancestry, which was less then delightful.

Some Quakers, too, which was, in contrast, awesome. But JEEZ!

Lemme wrap my brain around this and do more research and I'll report additional exciting findings, as I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat. :D

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tidbits from the February 17, 1888 Ypsi Commercial

Kicked off with a jab at those who came to Ypsilanti to visit the Occidental spa on North Huron Street and "take the waters":

A thirteen-year-old boy who stole something gets hauled off to reform school, apparently for YEARS:

Folks from olden times are hearkening back to even earlier times with a reenactor party. 15 cents in 1888 is equivalent to $3.50 today.

The death of Robert Campbell, father-in-law to Ypsi poet-farmer William Lambie, dies at William's home in Superior Township just outside the city limits:

Finally, Michigan Avenue druggist Frank Smith combines personal and professional advertising in his bid for a housegirl and his roster of wares, many of which were the patent medicines of the day:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Forgotten Origin of Long-Distance Telephony

I'd be lying if I said that I never grind out what I call a "bang-out" story to meet a deadline. Despite my best efforts, sometimes you just have to cough up those 1,000 words and get 'er done.

This is not one of those stories.

This is a story so elusive and strange (and enchanting) that it took weeks to sift through books and the Internet to find this forgotten Ypsilantian.

I found him.

Here's hoping he won't be forgotten again. Enjoy!

Edison Lamp Subscription


Here's an interesting ad from the February 10, 1906 Ypsilanti Daily Press, from the Washtenaw Light and Power company.

Apparently, if you subscribe to the service, you can get unlimited refills of "Edison base lamps," (old-time incandescent bulbs with the familiar screw bottom). The company also offers adaptors for "T.H. [Thompson-Houston] bulbs," which were also known as "bayonet" bulbs. TH bulbs were invented in 1883 and the company merged with Edison in 1893 to form General Electric.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The 1890 Diary of Abba Owen

Newest chapter in an ongoing serialization of the 1888 diary of Abba Owen, daughter of Ypsilanti mineral water baron Tubal Cain Owen and Anna (Stowe Foote) Owen. The Owens lived in a now-vanished house near the current day Roosevelt School building on EMU, where Tubal also had his magical and very profitable well.

Saturday Feb. 8: The thermometer is 12 below freezing, there are a great many sleighs out. Rick and Eber went sleigh riding this morning with Dave and Robert and Eber took me for a sleigh ride this afternoon the first I have had this winter.

Sunday Feb. 9: It has been a very pleasant day, tried to snow a little. Eber, Mama and I went to church. Rick took me for a sleigh ride this afternoon with Robin but the snow is nearly off the roads so that will not be any sleighing to-morrow. Mr. Post was up and made a call.

Monday Feb. 10th: It has been a lovely day. I went over to play for Nora Babbitt at the conservatory this A.M. then went down town with mama came home took my violin lesson right after tea and then mama and I went over to the lecture at Normal Hall, by Mr. [blank space]. We did not like his lecture.

Tuesday Feb. 11: A pleasant warm day but the roads are very muddy. Mama and I went to Sappho Club. Papa and Richard start for Chicago at 9:30 to-night. Eber came home to-night.

Wensday Feb. 12th: Lew came home with Eber to-night. He has got a situation as assistant chemist at [blank space] Iron Works in Chicago. He is to start Friday night so he came down to bid us all good-bye. Grandpa and Grandma came up and took tea and spent the eve. Mama went to "District Skule" meeting. I took dinner at Grandma's.

Thursday Feb. 13th: It has been a warm pleasant day. Lew and Ebe went back to A.A. @ 10:30. Mama and Grandma went to the Society this afternoon at Mrs. Sills and then they came home and went to Mrs. Miler's to a tea party and came home at 9 o'clock. I had tea all by myself.

Friday Feb. 14th: It has rained all day. Mama went to Mrs. Dr. Hurston's this evening to the Di School. Drew ice all last night. 8 1/2 in. thick.

Saturday Feb. 15: A very pleasant day. Papa and Rick returned from Chicago last night, brought me three large gold fish and a female canary and brought himself a beautiful singer. They had a lovely time. John whiting and his roommate Mr. St. Clair came from A.A. this morning. mama went to the Opera house to have the dress rehearsal to-night.

Tune in next Tuesday for another peek at Abba's doings.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Vintage Sheet Music at the Archives

In honor of Valentine's day, here are a few more of the lovely artworks disguised as vintage sheet music down at the Archives; enjoy! (click for larger image).




Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Favorite Artifact with Fritz Passow

Notes from the Ypsi Newspaper Wars

In the time-honored rivalry of Ypsilanti newspapers, the Feb. 15, 1889 Commercial takes a swipe at the Ypsilantian for being slow to the news:


"Enterprise? After T. C. Owen had been manufacturing Toilet Soap from his Mineral Water for over a year, and the Commercial job department had printed over a hundred thousand wrappers for him, the Ypsilantian suddenly, and without giving its readers the least warning, one day announced that Mr. Owen had begun to manufacture soap.

"The September ’88 number of the Normal News, and each of the six succeeding issues, announced in the advertising columns that Mr. Owen had chanced the name of his Mineral water and products to “Atlantis,” instead of “Ypsilanti.” Yesterday, our contemporary tried to palm that fact off on an unsuspecting public as fresh news.

"It is expected that late next fall, or at least early in the winter, the Ypsilantian will state that Mr. Owen has been dealing in ice for the past summer.

"Such enterprise on the part of our brother news-gatherer, is remarkable!"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Vintage Valentine for your Sweetie: $2

Here's a last-minute Valentine idea to create a unique and charming present for your sweetie. At the Ypsilanti Archives, a big trove of vintage sheet music was unearthed. Since it has no relevance to Ypsilanti, the Archives is selling it--for only $2 per unit (these sell for considerably more on ebay). Many of these are love songs and the art---is to die for. SO PRETTY! Some of them are lithographs, my fave art medium. Just beautiful, and a real piece of Americana (there are even some wonderful old Irving Berlin pieces in there).

All you need is a spare nice picture frame and voila--you have a wonderful and unusual Valentine's Day present! Most of the music is 9 by 12 inches or a bit larger (my 8 by 11 scanner sliced off a few edges there, sorry).

Archives (300 N. Huron, white door on N side) are open tomorrow (Sunday) from 2 to 5 p.m.

Here are some examples of the sentiments you could choose for your sweetie. Wouldn't these look great on the wall?






Friday, February 11, 2011

Black Ypsilantian Oral Histories

Second in a Friday series of oral histories by black Ypsilantians collected in 1980 and 1981 by former local historian and EMU professor A. P. Marshall (pictured), and reprinted in honor of Black History Month. Taken as a whole, the histories show a different and sometimes unpleasant side of the city, as experienced by some residents. This interview was conducted by a Mr. Ingram for A. P. Marshall.

Kenneth Mashatt and Helen Mashatt Palmer discuss Hungry Hill, racism in the school system, and a black festival that predates the Heritage Fest.

Ingram: Where were you born?

Kenneth: I was born in Ann Arbor in September of 1939.

I: What were your parents' names?

K: My parents were Kenneth L. Mashatt and Helen Cole Mashatt. They came to Ypsilanti and built a home back in the early 1930s. In fact, the house that I'm living in now was built by my father and his brothers. Back then, they had moved blacks out of Depot Town because of the railroad tracks and they had put us up on the hill. They used to call it "Hungry Hill." [southwest corner of Ypsi, roughly within the Michigan Avenue/Hamilton/I-94 triangle and especially on Monroe, Madison, Jefferson, and Watling streets]. When my father was going to get a permit to build a house, he took the blueprints down to City Hall and they told him they didn't care what blacks built on the hill. This is what some of the attitudes were like back then.

I: Could you tell me something about your family's history?

K: As you know, blacks don't have any written history; it is mostly by word of mouth. I went to get birth and death certificates of father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. I could only get a death certificate of my great-grandfather because he was born in Springfield, Missouri.

I: What was his name?

K: I can't remember his name. My grandfather's name was Horace Mashatt. His father's father's father came from Louisiana. A lot of poeple say that Mashatt is fFrench-Canadian, but the French comes from Louisiana. My aunt has told me that the Mashatts were never slaves: they came to Louisiana as French. When my great-great-grandfather was in Missouri and the Civil War broke out, he was considered a slave, so he ran to Canada. Then he went to New York and married a white woman.

I: What year was that?

K: it had to be early in the 1800s. My great-great-grandmother was a white woman and only her first name (Charlotte) was on the certificate. I asked the lady at the Register's Office why and she said that back then, if a black married a white, the whites would disown her, so they would only put the first name on the certificate. That's how they knew she was white.

I: Did they live in Ann Arbor?

K: No. They lived in Ypsilanti. My great-grandfather was a well digger.

I: When did they come to Ypsilanti?

K: My father was born in 1894 and he was the oldest son of Horace Mashatt. They were both born in Ypsilanti. They were probably about 30 years apart, so my grandfather must have come here in the middle 1800s.

I: What was your grandfather's occupation?

K: He was a laborer at Ford Motor Company. He worked for Ford for fifty years. This was around 1915. My dad worked for Ford too. My father built the house and fell off of it. He went to the hospital and died of heart trouble because there was too much ether there. My grandfather was a well digger and he had a lot of land. From what I've been told, he had land from the water tower to Carpenter Road. [Note: The 1892 city directory shows Charles, Albert, and Louise Mashat living on the south side of Washtenaw just east of the city limits].

I: What was it like growing up as a black in Ypsilanti?

K: I attended Harriet School and Mr. Beatty was the principal. We had a very good atmosphere for lerning there. However, at the same time, there was more racism and prejudice in Ypsilanti as a whole. I didn't understand it as a child though. I lived in Ypsilanti before they had pavement or street lights. Horses, chickens, cows, and pigs used to run up and down the streets. It was a regular country life.

I: What kind of black leaders were there back then?

K: As I grew up, I found that there was racism in the school system. At Ypsilanti High, I was told that I couldn't be an architect because there weren't any black architects in the country. Opportunities to go into certain fields weren't there for blacks. The black leadership then was somewhat poor. However, the blacks in Ypsilanti at that time were the "get along, don't rock the boat" type.

I: Could you name some black ministers or teachers?

K: Dr. Perry was the first black to serve as a Board of Education member. Amos Washington was the first black Housing Commissioner. Ypsilanti was the first city to have a black mayor [John Burton]. We did have some profound leaders. Herbert Walker started the black Communist chapter. Ypsilanti was also the last point going north on the Underground Railroad.

I: Can you tell me more about Herbert Walker?

K: He was a dynamic leader, but I don't feel that the blacks in Ypsilanti were ready for his leadership back then. His family came from Illinois. The Church of God that is now on Jefferson Street started in his mother's living room. They wre quite religious. His father was a Baptist minister. His daughter, Ruth Walker Simpson, still lives in Ypsilanti. Herb lives in New York and is an engineer on the ocean liners.

I: In comparison with other places during that time, would you say that Ypsilanti was more liberal in its treatment of blacks?

K: I wouldn't say that it was more liberal, but it was just more covered up. I guess it depended on the way you carried yourself; I was born with a lot of pride. One time my other took in a young man who was a criminal and the police came looking for him. A policemen came to our house and my mother told him to remove his hat. He said that he didn't have to because it was part of his uniform, so my mother took a broomstick and knocked his hat clear across the room! We just never got messed with. The worst experience in my life was when I first found out that I was black. I was nineteen yers old and I had just joined the United States Army. On my way back home on leave, I stopped in Memphis, Tennessee at 2 a.m. I was hungry, but there wasn't anything open but a white grill. I went into the grill and asked the lady if I could get a sandwich. She said, "No, you can't get a sandwich. Get your black ass out of here!" I asked her why and she said that they didn't serve niggers there. I told her that I would leave if she gave me a sandwich. She called the manager and he said, "We don't serve blacks here. You've got to go." I said, "But I'm wearing a United States Army uniform." He said that they would give me a sandwich, but I would have to eat it outside. I had never been treated like that before.

I: Then you weren't really aware of your color in Ypsilanti.

K: That's right. There was no color awareness at that time. You knew that you were different, but you didn't really know that you were oppressed until things began to happen. One thing that I don't understand about blacks in Ypsilanti is that we have a poor conception about what we should accept from society as being a part of life (it's this man's world and we just live in it).

I: What were some black businesses that you remember when you were growing up?

K: When I was growing up, we had our own drug store. We also had a soda bar and two restaurants on Harriet Street. Amos Washington had a grocery store and there were also barber shops, a fish market, and a pool room.

I: What were the names of some of the owners?

K: Dickie Atkins owned a pool room. The Bennetts also owned a pool room that was on Monroe and Hamilton. Harbert [sic] Glover had a fish market down there too. He's a minister here in Ypsilanti.

I: What's the name of his church?

K: He doesn't have a church: he's an associate minister. Hall's Barber Shop was also down there. Mrs. Goodman (the mayor's mother) had a clothing store and Reverend Cartwright and the Fullers (James) both had restaurants too.

I: What were some of the reasons for these places closing down?

K: A lot of them died, but in many cases, there was no one to take up the slack. There is not that "get up and drive" in Ypsilanti either. I always say that the blacks in Ypsilanti are more passive than anyone I know. You have to kill somebody to get a riot started. Somebody has to die or burn down something before you can get the attention of masses of blacks and that is a very poor way! That's exactly what happened to the Youth on the Move and the Black Culture Festival. They have a Heritage Festival now that they claim is the first, but it isn't. The first festival was given in Parkway Park.

I: what year was that?

K: It was in 1971.

I: Were there many blacks in politics in Ypsilanti?

K: Yes. Herb Francois was a realtor, but he dealt in politics. John Burton and Mrs. Dorsey were also involved in politics. Mrs. Dorsey stands out in politics; she is a very educated woman.

I: What kind of influence did they have in decision-making in politics?

K: I think that it was minimal because they didn't take it to the streets. This has been my argument in Ypsilanti. They don't take it to the people. I remember when we got paved streets, sidewalks, and street lights. Mrs. Dorsey, John Burton, Amos Washington, and my mother had to petition to the people in the area to get these things. In every black community, there has always been poor communication. This is what has hurt the black politicians in ypsilanti. Dr. Clark was one of the most outstanding doctors that we had (black or white). Dr. Bass was another good doctor.

I: Can you remember anything that your father might have told you about what life was like for blacks when he first came here?

Helen: Back in those days, the black people stuck together. There were a lot of Masons in Ypsilanti, and if you were going to build a house, they would help.

K: My dad was a 33rd degree mason. It wasn't just the Masons that helped either. I've never been a Mason, but I've helped build at least eleven homes on Jefferson. My father died when I was three years old, so I don't know much about him.

H: If a man was going to do something in ypsilanti, the neighbors and everyone else would pitch in and help, moreso than they would do today.

K: They don't do that today. When I was young, my mother would send me to help brother Lewis after I got home from school. She told me to go down there and do whatever he told me to do without getting in his way.

H: My uncle was a licensed carpenter in Ypsilanti back then.

I: What was his name?

H: his name was Arden Kersey. He built a lot of houses. When we moved to Ypsilanti (around 1935), there were only three black families on Jefferson. Mr. Kersey had a mixed marriage. There have always been a lot of mixed marriages in Ypsilanti.

I: Did your uncle have a mixed marriage?

K: No, but we had two others (the Thompsons and the Duckets).

H: There's a lady named Hardy that lived on Jefferson. Their family has been here for a long time. She must be over 100 years old. My aunt, Edna Kersey, is about 90 years old. She was my mother's sister.

I: When do you think your family came here?

K: It was in the late 1700s or early 1800s. My grandfather lived to be 97 and he was born here.

I: Could you give me the names of your brothers and sisters?

H: Frank Mashatt, Helen Jade Mashatt, Thomas Cole Mashatt, Carolyn Ann Mashatt, Lilian Betty Mashatt, Shirley Mashatt Gray, Kenneth Albert Mashatt, Marvin Keith Mashatt, and Sharon E. Mashatt Newton.

I: How do you view black life in Ypsilanti in terms of race relations, education, and leadership? Have there been any significant advances on the part of black leadership in Ypsilanti today as compared to the past?

K: I used to deal in politics a little bit. I was County Youth Director from 1971-1974 and I dealt with a lot of different problems. The leadership in Ypsilanti is very passive. A lot of people dont believe in rocking the boat. I guess that I have been somewhat of a militant There are a lot more opportunities for blacks on the national level. I don't think that there are that many opportunities in this city. There are quite a few small factories or shops in Ypsilanti that are still all-white. If blacks are going to live in Ypsilanti and support the economic system, they should share in some of the profits. There should be at least five blacks working in those small factories that employ 20 or 25 people. I haven't seen any great changes in the labor structure. As far as education, we have a black mayor, a black principal, and a black education council. I guess that we just need a lesson in what blackness is. If you're a black principal who can't understand the needs of blacks, then being a black principal doesn't mean a thing.

I: What is the role of black ministers in Ypsilanti compared to what they did in the past?

K: In the past, black ministers played an important part in Ypsilanti as far as unity. There used to be a community chorus made up of Baptist, Methodist, and Holiness churches. One Sunday every month, there would be a community sing led by Olive Evans. Olive was an outstanding school teacher and the first black music director in Ypsilanti. She organized the community chorus, and the black ministers from all of the churches came together. The attitude today among the black ministers is "get it all for yourself." I don't think that there is unity among the black ministers.

I: Why do you think this is so?

K: We have become materialistic and very conscious of finance and status. The ministers are concerned with how many people they can get into their church and how much prestige they will have among these people. This is the role that they are playing. For years, they have been trying to get the black ministers together for a community sing at the Black Festival but the ministers won't cooperate. I don't think that it's because of poor organization; I think that there's something there that has separated minister from minister. It's not a false atmosphere either. There has been a lot of conflict between some of the Baptist churches and now the ministry is divided in its efforts as far as congregation.

I: Were the needs of youth provided for better in Ypsilanti when you were young or today?

H: They are provided for less now. When I was young, if there was a need, the people and the churches got together. Now they don't get together. Some of the churches don't even have missionaries anymore. Back then, a lot of ministers went beyond their church members. If you weren't a member, they'd still come to visit you. A lot of ministers now just visit their own flock. I feel that if a person is already saved and going to church, they should find someone else to save. They don't come to the people's rescue. There was a time when if someone died in a family, all the ministers from the churches would come and do what they could. If you don't belong to the church now, I understand that you even have to pay to have a church service when you're buried.

I: What did churches do for you when you were young compared to now?

H: The churches would have picnics. Sometimes we wouldn't go any farther than Recreation Park, but all of the churches would get together for it. It would be very well supervised. There weren't as many cars and buses back then, so we were limited as far as going different places, but they would always have get-togethers. They don't do that very much anymore. I used to sing with the acapella choir and that had young people in it from every church. We also had a baseball team that won the city championship in Ypsilanti. The older teenagers (18 or 19 years old) would rent bikes and go bike riding. It would all be very well supervised.

I: What kind of alternatives or solutions do you think might enhance community life among blacks in Ypsilanti?

H: I think that the people in Ypsilanti have become afraid of each other. When I was young, we could go anywhere we wanted. Nobody even bothered us. I'm older now and I wouldn't do it anymore and many young people won't either.

K: I think that it is a national breakdown of standards and morals. I hope that we never get like the Florence Society. There was a time when blacks had standards that they kept regardless of what the Florence Society said. there was a time at Harriet School when a teacher had to be a church member. Teachers were just like preachers.

I: What time period was that?

K: It was when I went there in the 1940s. We had to say the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer, and we also had scripture readings. There was a time when we respected people. It's a breakdown and we've become skeptical.

I: What suggestions could you offer for improvement?

K: I would start with the church. I would begin with the pastor and carry it to the streets.

I: What are your feelings about race relations in Ypsilanti?

K: I feel that love begins in the house and carries outdoors. I can't say that I'm going to love the man across town when I can't love you. Blacks have to learn to love each other before they worry about loving whites. Race relation has to begin in the black community before you can go across town.

I: What are some changes that might be needed to get more blacks involved in politics in Ypsilanti?

K: I think that the elite blacks talk above the head of the everyday factory man. Blacks in high positions have that "look down their nose" attitude. They have to get rid of that attitude and work for the good of everybody. It can be done.

H: As soon as the elite blacks get money, they move out.

I: Where do they move to?

H: They all move to the white neighborhoods. There was a time when the school teachers all lived down the street or around the corner. Now they all live in white neighborhoods and are secluded. they should bring up their own neighborhoods instead of building gorgeous in the white neighborhoods.

K: Black people need to be made aware that they're not going to be embarrassed because they don't understand terminology and policy making. At the same time, they can have an interest and input without being looked down on for not understanding the situation. There's a street language that blacks have to come back to in order to communicate.

I: Who were some important individuals that had an impact on your life when you were growing up?

K: My sixth grade teacher [Dubois Patton] had a great impact on me. We were always getting into trouble, but he always took the time to keep us after school and sit down to talk to us. He sat down with the four of us and told us that we were going to be something. We all turned out pretty good too. One man is a foreman at Ford's, another man is a UAW representative, and I was a pastor for twelve years before I retired.

I: Were you a minister in Ypsilanti?

K: No. I was a minister in Jackson, Inkster, and Detroit. Acie Green and Howard Glover also had a big influence on me. They were my big brothers. My mother had the greatest influence on my life.

* * * * * * * *

Thursday, February 10, 2011

1936 Aerial Photo, Labeled


Here's another 1936 aerial photo with some points of interest labeled. In this Depression-era photo we're looking north.

A: LeForge Road.
B: Highland Cemetery
C: Forest avenue Bridge
D: Ypsilanti Gas Company (?)
E: Frog Island
F: Riverside Park
G: Masonic Hall (Riverside Arts)
H: Huron Hotel (Centennial Center)
I: Wiedman Ford dealership
J: Cleary Business College
K: St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Just northwest of C: reputed onetime hobo jungles

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Weird, Vanished, and Forgotten Jobs of 1892

Come take a walk with me through 1892 Ypsilanti, and take a peek at some long-forgotten jobs that used to be a mainstay of life in town.

A Homeopathic Dose of Money

Sensible folks know that homeopathy is nonsense. Yet it's all too easy to assume that in the quaint old past, people gave credence to this buncombe. After all, even the U of M had a department of homeopathy. Surely people thought this was a valid treatment back in the day, when they didn't know what we know today.

It's easy to assume so. Yet that would be wrong. Even in its day, homeopathy was ridiculed by many contemporaneous folks. I've read a joke in a late 19th-century Ypsi paper about a baby drinking up a bottle of medicine and a mom panicking. "Don't worry, Ma--it was only a homeopathic medicine. He won't be affected in the least."

Here's another tidbit of evidence that homeopathy was viewed with skepticism by many. It's an ad from the 1892 Ypsi city directory. The newspaper, from its office at the southeast corner of Cross Street and Huron, is advertising its job printing services for anyone who needs a church bulletin or commencement booklet or the like.

"FOR MONEY (A HOMEOPATHIC DOSE) WE WILL DO YOUR PRINTING."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The 1890 Diary of Abba Owen

Newest chapter in an ongoing serialization of the 1888 diary of Abba Owen, daughter of Ypsilanti mineral water baron Tubal Cain Owen and Anna (Stowe Foote) Owen. The Owens lived in a now-vanished house near the current day Roosevelt School building on EMU, where Tubal also had his magical and very profitable well.

Saturday Feb. 1st: It has been colder to-day. Thermometer at 4 below freezing. Mama and I spent the morning at Grandma's, she is not feeling well to-day. Eber has driven to A.A. to-night to hear Geo [blank space] lecture on {Convict?] life in Siberia.

Sunday Feb. 2nd: This is candlemas day. The bear did not see his shadow therefore we will have no more cold weather. Eber and I went to church this morning. Eber got home from A.A. about half past twelve, said the lecture was splendid and liked [it].

Monday Feb. 3rd: It has been cloudy all day and is raining this evening. Eber went to A.A. this morning. Suderer came this evening. Mama went down to Mrs. Hemphill's to attend a rehearsal of the District School which is going to be given in about two weeks. I spent the afternoon with Grandma.

Tuesday Feb. 4th: To-day has been as warm as a spring day. Thermometer up to 62'. Nora Babbitt came over to practice a song and I play the obbligato solo on the violin. Mama and I went to the Sappho Club this afternoon. We expected Uncle John and Will Owen on the 11:30 train tonight but they did not come.

Wensday Feb. 5: The thermometer has gone down to 2 below freezing. Papa went to Detroit this morning and Uncle Owen came home with him at 4 and stayed until 9:30 in the evening. Mama and I went over to Mr. Edison's wife's funeral this afternoon, there was a prayer at the house and then they went to the church and as there was no one to stay with the baby while they were gone mama and I stayed and took care of it. I went with mama to the meeting of the District School at Mrs. Pease's.

Thursday Feb. 6: It has been a pleasant day. Mama and Grandma went to the society at the Rectory this afternoon. Eber came home on the 5:30 train from A. Arbor.

Friday Feb. 7: It began to snow this morning and snowed hard all day, there is about 4 in. of snow. TOnight it grew warm and rained a little. I went over to the Normal to practice with Nora Babbitt and Georgie Chesher this morning. Mama went to Mrs. Watling's this evening to the "District Skule."

Saturday Feb. 8: The thermometer is 12 below freezing, there are a great many sleighs out. Rick and Eber went sleigh riding this morning with Dave and Robert and Eber took me for a sleigh ride this afternoon the first I have had this winter.

And Abba sleighs away till next Tuesday!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Past and Present, Cross Street


Friday, February 4, 2011

Black Ypsilantian Oral Histories

In 1980 and 1981, former local historian A. P. Marshall conducted a number of oral histories of black Ypsilantians, now collected in the Archives. I'll feature one each Friday in honor of Black History Month. Taken as a whole, the histories show a different and sometimes unpleasant side of the city, as experienced by some residents.

Today's oral history is from Hazen King. He discusses whites-only establishments in town, racism in the police force, and his mother opening the first black-owned restaurant in the city.

Photos: 1. Early Hazen King family home. Hazen's father (also named Hazen) in picture. 2. King family home at 417 South Hamilton; Hazen was born and raised here. The building was torn down c. 1957 or '58. 3. L to R: Walter Roberson (Hazen's brother-in-law), Leo Johnson, and Hazen's brother Merlin King.

Marshall: What is your full name?

King: Hazen A. King.

M: Were you born here in Ypsilanti?

K: Yes. I live on the same street I was born on.

M: What year were you born?

K: I was born on November 23, 1918.

M: Then you have lived here all your life.

K: I married my first wife in 1938 and we lived in Detroit for 4 or 5 years.

M: Did you have any children from that wife?

K: We had a son that was prematurely born, but no other children besides that.

M: How long were you married?

K: We were married for about five years. My wife was Harold Carter's first cousin (Evelyn Hughes). Harold's mother, who lived on Whittaker, was Nellie Hughes' sister. I was cutting a lawn on Pleasant Drive for Dr. Williamson one day when my friend Floyd Boswell came over and said that he and his girlfriend were going to get married. Floyd had brought his girlfriend's sister and Evelyn along too. On the way over, they talked me into getting married to Evelyn and making it a double wedding. I had only known Evelyn for 6 or 8 months, but I've never been able to say no, so we got married. The date was June 30, 1938.

M: Then you moved to Detroit.

K: Yes. We first lived on Bangor and Hancock. Then Floyd and his wife Martha and Evelyn and I moved into an apartment on 4875 Roosevelt in Detroit. I missed Ypsilanti the whole time that I was there.

M: When did you come back to Ypsilanti?

K: I came back to Ypsilanti in around 1945 or 1946. I had been coming to Ypsilanti every week to give my mother money. I liked to play cards, and I was in and out of the places downtown quite regularly.

M: Did you ever live with your father?

K: They have told me that my father used to hold me on his lap when I was about two years old. He wanted to make me a boxer. I tried to become one, too. I joined the Golden Gloves and I used to run up and down West Grand Boulevard.

M: When did you marry Gertie, your second wife?

K: It was in 1946, but I'm not sure about the date.

M: What was Gertie's maiden name?

K: It was Kennedy. Her brothers are Pete and James Kennedy. James is married to one of the Richison girls and lives out in West Willow.

M: Is your wife a native of Ypsilanti?

K: No. They came here from South Carolina. I think that Gerrie's oldest brother came here around 1942. The rest of them came around 1944 or 1945.

M: When did you and Gertie move here?

K: We lived at 417 S. Hamilton, which was property that Aunt Ida and Uncle Dick Morton gave us. We lived in a small house that was set off to the back (like a garage) but still on the same lot. We moved to this house in March of 1956.

M: Where were your fathers parents living when he was born?

K: They were living at 417 S. Hamilton. My grandmother moved out here and brought her three daughters.

M: Did you ever go into the service?

K: No. I didn't want to fight, but they might have treated me better over there than I was being treated here. At that time, I couldn't go into the Huron Hotel or very many of the restaurants. In one restaurant, they told us that they liked us kids a lot and they liked us to come in, but they didn't want us to sit down. We had to take our ice cream cones and go outside.

M: What restaurant was that?

K: A fellow named Ernie had a little ice cream parlor on Michigan Avenue. I was asked by my stepfather to put in an application to join the police force because people were concerned about no blacks being on it. I went down and took the exam along with seven others, but Jimmy and I were the only ones that passed. We passed the oral, written, and physical exams and were sent to be interviewed by Dan Patch at the police station. By the questions that he asked, I guess you might say that racism was involved. I would be patrolling Harriet Street and I wouldn't be riding in a car.

M: Then you wouldn't join the police force under his conditions.

K: No. He told me that I was going to be alone and asked me if I was afraid. I said that I wasn't afraid, but if any disturbance came up, how could I make an arrest? He said that they were going to put call boxes on the corners of Monroe and Harriet and I would have to hold the person while I called the scout car. He said that at some tie, if I ever had to ride in a scout car, I couldn't go into any of the bars downtown. I asked him if there was any certain percentage of arrests that had to be made. He said that they made an average of thirty arrests per month on the south side. That scared me to death! He also told me that there might be some people on the force that wouldn't be too crazy about working with me. That bothered me, because I thought that I would be an officer just like they were. He also said that people might call me "nigger" and I wouldn't be able to get mad or fight about that. I got bawled out when I went home because they said that he told me all of those things so that i would fall into the trap and turn the job down. However, trap or no trap, I couldn't take the job if that's the kind of person that he was. I couldn't work for that type of person.

M: Can you tell me about your mother?

K: She was a cateress who was well-known and well-liked. She worked at the Country Club. She was a marvelous cook. Whenever she had the Palm Leaf Club* here, she had 100% turn-out. She made the best rolls, and nobody ever got the recipe. She was known throughout Ypsilanti for her cooking. She only had a fifth grade education, but she was very good with money. She could really make a dime stretch.

M: Can you tell me about the other children in your family?

K: My oldest sister is Marguerite. She lives on Eight Mile and Wyoming in Royal Oak.

M: What is her married name?

K: She's had three or four husbands. The name she presently goes by is Marguerite.
Marshall: Who are the other children in your family?

K: There is Merlin, who just passed away, and Audrey, Roberson's wife. She was born when my mother was married to Ben Neely.

M: Does Audrey have any children?

K: She has two children named Dawn and Gregory. Dawn has a little girl, so Audrey is also a grandmother.

M: How old were you when your mother married Ben Neely?

K: I must have been about 8 or 9 years old.

M: Then you grew up under him.

K: Yes. I liked him then and I still do. He lives on Ferris Street in Louise Mahaley's house. When I was young, I'd come home late and try to slip into the house, but I could never get by him because he'd be sitting in the chair reading a book. He was very well-versed and concerned, but very militant.

M: What is the relationship between Ben Neely and Mrs. Neely that lives down the street and goes to our church?

K: She married Howard Neely, his brother. By the way, my mother had the first black restaurant in Ypsilanti on the corner of Adams and Harriet. [218 Harriet, between S. Washington and S. Adams, in 1924 city directory].

M: What year was that?

K: I was still a child. It was before she married Ben Neely.

M: Were you friends with Dr. Perry?

K: Yes. I used to go over there on his days off and he would trap birds. That was before his children were born or when they were very young. I spent a lot of time over in his yard. Before Dr. Perry's death, I had broken my leg while painting for the Ypsilanti Public Schools and was off of work for a while. I went down to the river every day when they were looking for him. It was hard for me to get up and down the banks on crutches, and they one day that I didn't go, they found him. I idolized Dr. Perry. He was always immaculate. His wife used to stay home and cook his meals and starch his shirts so that he was presentable.

M: Did you know Dr. Clark?

K: Yes. I went to him occasionally at his house on Hawkins Street. I also knew his daughter, Clemah, and his sons, Leo and Sam.

M: Earlier in this conversation, you spoke of someone named Morton. Is that the same Morton that lives in ANn Arbor?

K: There was a Bill Morton from Ann Arbor. His brother, John, lived down here next to the Baptist Church. There is also a Robert Morton from Ann Arbor. He is the son of Bill Morton.

M: The Mortons were one of the first two black families to move to Ypsilanti.

K: I'm sure that my uncle Dick Morton was here before John Morton. He was no relation to the other Mortons.

M: Are any of them still living?

K: No. The last person that was still a relative died when I was still in high school. IdaMorton's sister lived in Portland, maine and had a seaside summer resort. That property, along with two homes in the downtown area, was willed to us.

M: How are you related to the Mortons?

K: Ida Morton, Dick Morton's wife, was my grandmother's sister. She was my father's aunt. Ida's sister was my father's mother. When his mother died, Ida raised him. The Mortons also gave us the property on Hamilton Street. Ida's sister, Evadore, lived in Maine. I remember her coming here once when either Ida or my father died. My father died when he was 25 years old in May of 1922. I was about four years old then.

M: Do you remember the Days?

K: Yes. Minnie Day lived on the corner of Hamilton, right across from the doctor's office. There was another sister too, and they were both old maids. There are also some Days in Saline, but I don't know if they are related.

*Organized in 1904, the Palm Leaf Club was a group of around 20 (in 1933) black Ypsilanti women who held tea party socials and other events to raise money for the church and for relief of the poor. The group still exists today.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

From the Coffee Files


Why did 19th-century local residents laboriously roast and grind their coffee beans at home?

I've done at least the first part, and it's a LOT of work for kind of grainy, lumpy coffee.

But it was common practice in late 19th-century Ypsi, and the reason for all that work might surprise you.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Inaugural "My Favorite Artifact" video starring James Mann

Like to chat about your own? It takes about half an hour; just give me a jingle. Hope you like it!

Cartoons from the 1888 Ypsilanti Commercial

For a while in the summer of 1888, the Commercial ran a series of small syndicated cartoons in its front-page "Local" section. What strikes Dusty D, though this may be a banal observation, is that people dressed so formally for everyday business. I doubt the concept of casual clothes even existed except for the so-called "wash frock." It's also interesting to note that whereas men's clothing is nearly identical to today's men's formal clothing, women's clothing has changed far more radically--imagine being corseted all day and schlepping around yards and yards of fabric...not sorry I missed that. Anyways, let's take a peek.

(From an era many decades before car seats and urban assault strollers).

Here is a caricature of a German immigrant, and the cartoonist found it acceptable in that day and age to print the conversation in dialect. The dialogue: I. "Officer: Look out there man! Don't you see that runaway coming?" II. "Spagmeyer (as everything comes up standing) Dey's geddingbooty gareless mit deir horses in this town, ain'd id?"

Now, I frankly don't get this one. You can see that the pictures hanging on the wall in the background mirror the names of the couple. Is it funny because "Butch" was regarded as a coarse or low-class moniker? Was "Butch" a slang term for a pig? (Tried to find that out, no luck). I just don't know.

Oh, the horrors! Note the cushion on the floor for Mama's feet. The Ypsilanti Historical Museum has a Victorian-era footwarmer. It's a fabric-covered box in which one can place coals. Just another reminder that homes were COLD! Uninsulated, poorly and unevenly heated...central heating, except for the very wealthy, wouldn't become common until well after the turn of the century.

And a humorous jab at an airheaded lady who just can't restrain herself from peeking at the big ending without bothering to read the entire book. Note her complicated dress complete with bustle--phew, what an ensemble to have to tote around each day. And so ends our peek at some bits of humor from the past.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The 1890 Diary of Abba Owen

Newest chapter in an ongoing serialization of the 1888 diary of Abba Owen, daughter of Ypsilanti mineral water baron Tubal Cain Owen and Anna (Stowe Foote) Owen. The Owens lived in a now-vanished house near the current day Roosevelt School building on EMU, where Tubal also had his magical and very profitable well.

Saturday Jan. 25th: This has been a beautiful day and above freezing and the ice is melting; no hope of cutting ice. Eber rode to A.A. this morning started at half past seven, took his ex. and arrived home about 1 p.m. I am feeling better but yet in bed. Grandma was up all day.

Sunday Jan. 26th: This has been a very disagreeable day and rainy. I got up this morning but felt very weak. Mr. Post was here this afternoon.

Monday Jan. 27th: Eber went to Ann Arbor this morning. Rick and I changed places to-day, he went to bed and I took to the lounge.

Tuesday Jan. 28th: It has been a very pleasant day. Richard is feeling better but is not up yet. Grandma was up and spent the day.

Wensday Jan. 24th: To-day has been cloudy. It is warm and not any snow. Eber came home this evening. Richard is up to-day. The men are getting lights ready to go over on the river and cut ice to put in the ice house over here although it is so thin for papa is afraiad we may not draw any more. Mr. Henderson died last night; he has been sick for a long time.

Thursday Jan. 30th: It has been a damp cloudy day. 125 tons of ice put up last night. Mama and Grandpa + Grandma went to Mr. Henderson's funeral this afternoon. I took a ride this morning but it was too damp to stay out long. Mr. Suderer came this evening but Rick and I were too weak to take our lessons.

Friday Jan. 31st: This has been like a spring day, the thermometer was up to 50'. Mama and I went downtown all the afternoon. Drew more ice last night.

Saturday Feb. 1st: It has been colder to-day. Thermometer at 4 below freezing. Mama and I spent the morning at Grandma's, she is not feeling well to-day. Eber has driven to A.A. to-night to hear Geo [blank space] lecture on {Convict?] life in Siberia.

Thanks for reading; next Tuesday is the next chapter.