Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ypsilanti Beginings



Whitetail deer in the North Woods marking his territory.

The land along the Huron River which became Ypsilanti, Michigan was surrounded by a vast stretch of primeval forest broken only by lakes, marshland, and occasional open tracts of land early settlers called “oak openings.” The ground cover was a tangle of rugged shrubbery blanketed by a deep carpet of fallen leaves decomposing into rich soil the region became known for. Herds of deer and solitary black bears roamed the countryside while smaller game lived in the treetops and along the river banks. Fish, crawdads, and snapping turtles plied the river currents.


The open area where the Huron River bends and narrows at the shallows was a crossroad and neutral ground for the Chippewa, Pottawatomie, Ottawa, and Wyandot (Huron) Native Americans. The area was not a permanent home of any particular tribe, but the Hurons--as the French dubbed them--were known to have a burial ground on the west side of the Huron River.

Birch bark canoe
There were only two ways to enter the area: by river in a canoe or by foot on the Pottawatomie Trail, which followed the Huron River Valley from the headwaters of Lake Erie. This ancient Indian pathway led to the heartland avoiding most terrain and water impediments.


In 1809, three French pioneers Gabriel Godfroy, Francois Pepin, and Romaine La Cambre built and operated an Indian trading post named Godfroy’s on the Pottawatomie. Various tribes traveled east and west at the Huron River crossing. The trading post bartered gaudy trinkets, steel knives, hand-held farm implements, and small kegs of whiskey for beaver, muskrat, bear, deer, fox, and otter pelts. Native American handicrafts were also traded for American goods brought in from Detroit by pack horse on the Pottawatomie Trail.


Two years later, the three Frenchmen, and Godfroy's adult children were issued four tracts of land under the seal of President James Madison known as the original French Claims. Each claim was approximately a half mile wide and two miles long with the Huron River as its eastern boundary. The four claims included two square miles or about 2,500 acres. The trading post burned down in 1815 but was quickly rebuilt. In 1819, Native Americans began moving westward as European civilization encroached. With the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris, Lower Michigan fell out of Native American hands forever. By 1820, the trading post was abandoned and left in ruins.


Meanwhile in Sandusky, Ohio, Benjamin Woodruff’s wife Ella inherited several hundred dollars from her grandfather’s estate. She and her husband decided to invest the windfall where land was cheap--that was Michigan Territory. In the spring of 1823, Benjamin Woodruff, his brother-in-law William Eiclor, Oronte Grant, and Hiram Tuttle decided to improve their lot and set out on the old Indian trail at Lake Erie in search of land to homestead. The group was outfitted with a wagon loaded with provisions and a large number of cattle belonging to Grant and Tuttle. Each of the men had a stake in the success of this venture.

The group lodged with former neighbors from Sandusky, who then lived in Monroe, Michigan. They were familiar with the countryside of Southern Michigan and suggested a clearing near the ruins of Godfroy’s on the Pottawatomie as a favorable location for a settlement. The pioneers sold much of their cattle to finance their enterprise but retained enough livestock for their new farms. They headed into the interior of Michigan Territory, first on a flat-bottomed boat powered by poles the men used to power their cargo upstream.

Where the waterway narrowed and the current was too strong, the men offloaded their wagon, repacked their supplies, and continued west on foot. A couple of days later, the party came upon a suitable stretch of land southeast of the old trading post. The open plain there would be easy to cultivate. The men staked their claims which would soon become their homes hewed out from trees cleared from the land.


Benjamin Woodruff left Hiram Tuttle in charge of the settlement while he returned to Ohio to bring his family and more supplies to their new home. Woodruff with his wife and six children arrived back on July 6th. When news of the new settlement reached Detroit, other people ventured west and were welcomed by the original settlers who envisioned a pioneer metropolis. The newcomers built log cabin frontier homes and cleared and fenced off more farmland. The settlement became known as Woodruff’s Grove.


The first crisis hit the new community in August of 1824. Malaria struck many of the settlers. If it wasn’t for the efforts of Ella Woodruff and Elona Rogers making hot porridge every day and taking it to the afflicted, many settlers would have perished. All but one settler survived.

Fall and winter were times of hardship for the settlement. Supplies had all but run out and money was scarce. But the first corn harvest was good and household gardens yielded plenty of turnips, beans, and potatoes. Venison, small game, and fish provided protein to round out their diet that winter.


The spring of 1825 brought more settlers who cleared and fenced off more land. Wildlife began avoiding the area. That same year, the Territorial Government of Michigan proposed a road be cut through the wilderness to link Detroit and Chicago—the two emerging centers of Great Lakes trade. It was argued that building the road would create a commercial and real estate boom along the road stretching the width of the Michigan territory. The road would also allow the Michigan militia to move supplies and manpower quickly to Chicago if necessary.


Orange Risdon
Surveyor Orange Risdon was commissioned to lay out a practical route in 1825 and was surprised to find how easy the task was by following the well-worn Pottawatomie Trail through the Huron Valley to the old Sauk Trail west. Much to the dismay of the settlers, the survey team bypassed Woodruff’s Grove by three-quarters of a mile north. The distance was not much as the crow flies, but it was enough to destroy the dream of a pioneer metropolis. The small settlement was abandoned and fell into ruin.


Greek General Demetrios Ypsilanti
Soon after the new Chicago Road was surveyed, land developers arrived. Judge Augustus Woodward and his business partners—John Stewart and William Harwood—bought the original French Claims on the Huron River. They platted the land into affordable real estate parcels. They christened their new town Ypsilanti after a Greek general prominent in the news of the day. Shortly after, a frontier town developed. In 1830, Ypsilanti’s first post office was constructed with regular stage and mail service to Detroit instituted. In 1832, the Michigan legislature officially recognized the frontier town as the Village of Ypsilanti. The wilderness had been tamed.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Terror In Ypsilanti and Fornology Year End Review

Photo credit: Nicole Fribourg.

As 2017 was coming to a close, I thought Terror In Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked and Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel were all but played out. I began the year with several California and Arizona book talks which were sparsely attended. Fortunately, my books were selling with some regularity on Amazon, and Ebook sales kicked-in to carry the day.

In February, I was approached by Tantor Media in Australia for the audio rights to Terror In Ypsilanti. They produced, advertised, and distributed the audio. All I had to do was cash the $500 advance and forget about it. Advances are guaranteed upfront, but royalties don't begin until profits pay back the advance. I thought it would take forever if at all, but I started earning royalties in the third-quarter. That was an unexpected surprise. The audio was selling.

Terror In Ypsilanti and Zug Island are self-published regional stories. Several editors and agents told me there was no audience for them. In April, I did a limited book tour in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, Michigan and was surprised when I sold out my stockpile of books. I returned again in July with more books to sell at Bookclub of Detroit's Bookfest. I sold out again. Traveling to Michigan from California to promote my books eats up my profits, but I didn't want the titles to die on the vine. Money has never been a motive for writing my books.

Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor. Photo credit: Lisa Powers
To get regional bookstores to handle Terror In Ypsilanti, I stripped my profit out of the equation to make the book attractive to booksellers. Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookstore, Nicola's Books, and Barnes & Noble in Ann Arbor agreed to carry my title. The Barnes & Noble in Allen Park--my hometown--also decided to carry the book. There may be others I'm unaware of. All bookstores are welcome to contact my publisher Wheatmark, Inc. for more information. Word of mouth has given Terror In Ypsilanti a life of its own.

Last spring, I wrote an article about John Norman Collins for The Dagger magazine in London. Months passed and I forgot about it. Early in December, I was notified that the article was published in their quarterly winter edition. This gives my book some international exposure.

A day or two later, a CBS producer contacted me to see if I'd be interested in being interviewed about the Collins murders for Through the Decades with Bill Kurtis in March. Talk about unexpected! The program will give Terror In Ypsilanti some much needed national exposure when it airs in August. What a nice way to end the year. 

Without my Fornology blog posts, I wouldn't have been able to get word out to the public or the media at large about my books. In April 2011, I reluctantly started blogging  at the request of my San Diego publicist Paula Margulies. My inner voice told me, "Who the Hell has time for this?" Once I got my posting rhythm down, I found I actually enjoyed blogging and the instant gratification I got from it. More and more people discovered my site and responded positively.

I was not only building a domestic audience, but also getting some international exposure from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Canada, the United Kingdom, and a vast array of other countries. In the six years since I began blogging, I've written over 380 posts. On December 26th, Fornology.com surpassed half a million hits.

Here is a link the Terror In Ypsilanti audiobook read by professional New York voice artist Chris Ciulla. Listen to a five minute sample: https://www.audible.com/pd/Nonfiction/Terror-in-Ypsilanti-Audiobook/B06XSKGMMJ/ref=a_search_c4_2_8_srTtl?qid=1491099172&sr=2-8 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Detroit's Greektown Stella - Iconic Homeless Woman Remembered

Photo taken of Stella Paris by a Detroit Policeman
I hadn't seen or heard of Greektown Stella for several decades, then several days ago, I found out that she had died almost seven years earlier on January 16th, 2011. When I saw her photograph on a recent Facebook post on the Old Delray/Old Detroit site, I knew that face and suddenly felt very sad. Whenever I go to a Greek restaurant or see the film Zorba, the Greek, I privately think of the crazy old Greek woman who patrolled the dimly lit Greektown neighborhood in Detroit from the late1960s until the early 1990s.

Stella was a modern day Cassandra that nobody wanted to listen to. Over forty years ago, whenever my friends and I would go to Greektown for dinner or shop at Trappers' Alley, Stella was often ranting something in Greek or broken English at the top of her lungs at all hours of the night. Stella's piercing voice would echo off the brick buildings. She was impossible to ignore. Because she was a permanent fixture on Monroe Street, we quipped that she was being paid by the restaurant owners to provide local color for the Greek neighborhood.

Several newspaper accounts at the time of her death list Stella Paris' age at ninety-five or older. No birth certificate, citizenship, or immigration documentation exists for her, so she was denied public assistance. Stella is believed to have been born on the Greek island of Samos.

Doug Guthrie, writing for The Detroit News on January 21, 2011, discovered that "(Stella) had come to this country in 1938 through an arranged marriage to restaurant owner John Perris. She raised three sons and never wanted to learn English (but she spoke broken English of necessity). Stella was four feet, ten inches tall and very trim. She passed away from a heart condition. Stella's body was laid out at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral on East Lafayette Blvd.

In life, Stella suffered from mental illness and the scourge of schizophrenia. She had family who tried to take her in, but she wanted to be in Greektown where she felt comfortable, even when sleeping outside contending with the weather and other aggressive street people. She carried a nightstick for her protection, given to her by the police at the12th precinct downtown. "The Greek community took care of her by giving her food, shelter, and love," said Frank Becsi. "Stella is buried at Woodmere Cemetery."

"Stella was a blessing to me," says Shelley Rigney, someone who remembers her fondly. "I was young and she would always tell the 'Wolf' types not to bother me because my Momma knew Jack Tocco (Detroit Mafia Don) & my Pappa was a big crazy Irishman & I was the only baby girl in a house full of Big Boys. She would laugh and tell me, 'Ya justa keep walkin'. Don't you let any of that Trash even stick to your shoe.' God bless her sweet soul & kind heart... I still have ribbons and all the things she gave me."

Stella led the hard life of a homeless street person. Even when she was in her fifties, she looked much older than she was. A retired Detroit policeman who wishes not to be identified walked the Greektown beat for years. He tells a more sobering, less romantic story of Stella's street life.

"(Stella) claimed to be some sort of Greek princess, or that her late husband was the king of Greece, or some similar story.... She would hear voices and stand on the street corner and yell at the voices... you could hear her half a mile away on a calm day.

"She was your basic homeless bag lady, and unfortunately, her mind was not all there.... Stella's favorite motel was police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien, just up the street from Greektown. Some (of the officers) took her in as a mascot, providing her with some old marksmanship badges, chevrons, and a nightstick (billy club) that she carried faithfully....


Stella on the street.
"I do know that many of the merchants in Greektown took pity on her regularly and provided her with food as needed. As I said, (Stella) was an icon. Actually, she was a perfect representative of so many mentally challenged people in the United States today."

Detroit policewoman Cynthia Hill said, "From our perspective, she never meant any harm. When I was working as a teenage police cadet, I noticed the officers let her sleep in the basement (of police headquarters) and bathe in our sinks in the women's restroom on the first floor. At first, she scared me. They told me, 'It's just Stella.' Later when I became an officer, I would see her on the street and feel the same way."

News of his mother's death came as a surprise to her seventy-year-old son, Anthony Perris of Livonia. He told The Detroit News that her life began on the streets when she was in her fifties. "The family assumed she had died fifteen years ago when she disappeared from Greektown," Perris said. "We didn't know that she had been ordered by a judge into an assisted care facility because she was brandishing a knife."

Stella Paris spent the last years of her life peacefully at the East Grand Nursing Home on East Grand Blvd. At the time, the facility desperately searched for any relative who could shed light on her immigration status. Because of the common misspelling of her real last name, the Perris family was never notified. Stella was indigent, so the nursing home took her under its protective care. But when Stella needed heart surgery, they were simply not in any position to pay for her hospital bills.

We have all seen homeless people in our communities. Some do their best to be unobtrusive or obsequious, while others rant and rave, wrestling with their personal demons. They are all desperate people living a tooth and nail existence. In our several encounters with Greektown Stella, my wife and I tried our best to avoid and not engage her in conversation because we didn't know what to expect. I regret that decision now.

Shelley Rigney laments, "Stella was a woman who was tossed aside by many, but she still managed to survive somehow. Now I wish I would have taken time for her. She had a lot to say and teach others."

My brother Rick suffered from schizophrenia and was never able to truly connect with other people or establish long term relationships. He eventually became homeless, drifted off for several years, and died a John Doe on a Denver street from a massive heart attack. Not unlike Stella. With no identification on his person, it took two weeks to match his fingerprints to FBI records. His prints were in their files.

Finding out about Greektown Stella's death brought it all back to me. Rather than our scorn and apathy, these people need acts of kindness and generosity, not only during the holiday season but throughout the entire year.

More on Stella can be found in this link: http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/01/greektown_stella_shouts_no_mor.html 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Detroit's Shock Theater


In 1957, Universal Pictures syndicated a television package of fifty-two classic horror movies released by Screen Gems called Shock Theatre. The package included the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, and Wolfman movies. Shock Theatre premiered with Lugosi's Dracula in Detroit on WXYZ channel seven at 11:30 pm on February 7, 1958.

Each syndicated television market had their own host. Detroit had one of the first horror movie personalities in the country. The show was hosted by Mr. X--Tom "Doc" Dougall--a classically trained actor who taught English at the Detroit Institute of Technology and moonlighted as a vampire on Friday nights. Unlike later horror movie hosts who would spoof their roles or riff on the movies they showed, Dougall was grimly serious and set a solemn tone for what was to follow. What most people don't know about Professor Dougall is that he co-wrote several Lone Ranger and Green Hornet scripts for WXYZ radio.

The opening of the show was memorable, but I was only nine years old when I started staying up every Friday night to see the classic monsters and mad-scientists--The Invisible Man comes to mind. This is how I remember the opening:

The show's marquee card came up with ominous organ music and a crack of thunder in the background. Replete in vampire grab with cape, Mr. X walked slowly on screen holding a huge open book announcing the night's feature in a scary voice. Next, he would say, "Before we release the forces of evil, insulate yourself against them." With a sense of impending doom, Dr. X continued, "Lock your doors, close your windows, and dim your lights. Prepare for Shock." The camera came in for an extreme close-up of Dr. X's face, more lightening and thunder effects, and finally his gaunt face morphed into a skull. Then the film credits would roll.

There was something positively unholy about the show which made it an instant success with my generation of ghoulish Detroit Baby Boomers. The show's ominous organ music set the mood for the audience. The piece was listed only as #7 on a recording of Video Moods licensed for commercial television and not available to the public.

No video link to Detroit's Shock Theatre's opening has surfaced, but the above newspaper ad for the show gives an idea of the facial dissolve special effect. If anyone knows where I can find a link, Gmail me so I can add it to this post. Thanks.

Detroit's Baby Boomer Kid Show Hosts:
https://fornology.blogspot.com/2017/12/detroit-baby-boomer-kids-show-hosts.html

Monday, December 11, 2017

Detroit Baby Boomer Kids Show Hosts

Poopdeck Paul, Milky the Clown, Captain Jolly, Jingles, Johnny Ginger, and Bozo the Clown.


Late in 1950, Twin Pines Dairy wanted to sponsor a children's show with cartoons, western movies, and a magic clown called Milky. The dairy owner had seen magician Clare Cummings perform in the Detroit area and offered him the job. Cummings created the Milky makeup and his wife made his costume patterned after the clown in the opera Pagliacci. Milky the Clown was born. Between commercial breaks, Milky performed magic tricks and hosted the day's movie. When he performed his tricks, Milky would always say the magic words "Twin Pines."

In the days of only four TV broadcasters in the Detroit area, Milky worked at all three American channels. Milky's Movie Party debuted on December 16, 1950 at  WJBK-channel two. In 1955, Milky moved to WXYZ--channel seven with the same show except with Little Rascals shorts. In 1958, the show moved for the last time to WWJ--channel four with a slightly different title Milky's Party Time. 

Party Time included a live audience and competitions between boys and the girls. Winners would chose a prize from the Twin Pines Toy House. Milky the Clown ended for Cummings in 1964 when he gave up the costume and makeup to make more money in industry.

Clare Cummings died on October 31, 1994, the same day as another noteworthy magician's death in Detroit in 1926--Harry Houdini. Cummings donated most of his magic tricks and one of his costumes to the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. They are on permanent display.

***
In 1957, Windsor, Ontario broadcaster CKLW--channel nine purchased 234 Max Fleisher Popeye cartoons and they were looking for someone to host Popeye and Friends for their 6:00 pm time slot. Toby David portrayed Captain Jolly. Captain's Jolly's first mate was Poopdeck Paul portrayed by Paul Schultz, who worked the weekend slot. The show was popular but ended in 1964 as CKLW decided to cancel the show. Captain Jolly would address his kiddie audience as his "Chipmates" in his best bad-German accent.
***


Jerry Gale was working as a stand-up comedian in Toledo, Detroit, and Windsor scratching out a living. In 1957, he auditioned for a new WXYZ program showing Three Stooges shorts called Curtain Time. The station manager insisted that Gale work under the name Johnny Ginger. Ginger's character was dressed as a stagehand in bib overalls. He would open the curtain and close the curtain for every show. Curtain Time ran from 1957 until 1960 when the show was rebranded under the name The Johnny Ginger Show running from 1960 through 1968. Ginger changed his costume to a bellhop uniform and became a fan favorite.

***

Jingles in Boofland was purchased from a Fort Wayne, Indiana station by CKLW in 1958 for their weekly 5:00 pm time slot. Jerry Booth's character was a court jester and not a clown. He wore no makeup. His costume covered with bells jingled whenever he moved. 

Jingles lived in the mythical kingdom of Boofland--a play on Booth's last name. The show did not have a studio audience to compromise the fantasy of the medieval castle, the parapet, the archway, and several set pieces which allowed kids watching at home to work their imaginations. His two sidekicks were puppets, Herkimer Dragon and Cecil B. Rabbit. 

Herkimer, Jingles, and Cecil B.
Jingles played the straight man reacting to the puppets' eccentric behaviors. The rabbit was a bossy know-it-all. The dragon was a soft-spoken buffoon who did stupid things all the time. Occasional puffs of smoke would come out of Herkimer's mouth. Inside the puppet's head was a tube. Off-stage actor and voice of the puppets Larry Sand would light up a cigarette and blow smoke through the tube creating a fire-breathing dragon effect.

Jingles's comedy skits and running gags were wrapped around the Warner Brothers cartoons and Laurel and Hardy shorts that the program served up. Jingles in Boofland ended in the early sixties.

***

CKLW Detroit/Windsor Bozo--Art Cervi
The original Bozo the Clown was created by Alan W. Livingston in the 1940s for a storytelling record album. The character first appeared on TV in 1949. The rights to Bozo were purchased in 1956 by Larry Harmon. Harmon franchised the character across America, so every major television market had their own Bozo the Clown showing Bozo cartoons.

In 1965 when cable TV was taking hold, Harmon began to syndicate Bozo's Circus from Chicago and took the show to a national audience. Individual stations no longer needed their own Bozos, nor could they compete with the new format. In 1978, the show was bouncing off satellites and appearing worldwide.

Bob McNea was Detroit's first Bozo for WWJ from 1959-1967. Jerry Booth took over the role for CKLW but lasted only a month. Booth did not like putting on the heavy stage makeup or the anonymity of being Bozo. Art Cervi took over the role. He donned the red wig and clown suit from 1967 through 1979 when his contract ran out.

The above photo of Bozo needs some context. Bozo was doing a live appearance in Tiger Stadium. His makeup and wig are exaggerated so the crowd could see him from a distance. "Whoa, Nelly!" Normally, he wasn't that scary.

***


No survey of Detroit's kid show hosts would be complete without mention of the King of Detroit Kiddie Comedy--Soupy Sales. His show Lunch with Soupy ran at noon on WXYZ from 1953 until 1960.

I remember Lunchtime as a half-hour romp of slapstick, word play, and improvisation. Soupy's signature trademarks were the "pie in the face" and his dance the "Soupy Shuffle." No cartoons, just Soupy and his puppets White Fang, Black Tooth, and Pookie.

Most people are unaware that Milton Supman (Soupy Sales) held a master's degree in journalism. Soupy warrants his own post:

https://fornology.blogspot.com/2017/06/lunch-with-soupy-sales-in-detroit.html

Thursday, November 30, 2017

5,000 Ways You Know You're From Detroit


5,000 Ways You Know You're From Detroit (2017) is a treasure trove of memories and images which will resonate with Detroit and Windsor, Ontario area Baby Boomers (1946-1964). But it would be a mistake to think 5,000 Ways is only of interest to the Baby Boomer generation. Anyone with an interest in Detroit's storied past or who wants to learn more about the world their parents and grandparents lived in will find this coffee table book fascinating and informative.

Walkerville Publishing owners Chris Edwards and Elaine Weeks.

Chris Edwards and Elaine Weeks say that "5,000 Ways is not meant to be an encyclopedia or an almanac. Our book is more of a personal exploration of life in Detroit primarily after World War II based on an eclectic collection of Detroit stories and photos." Each chapter has a narrative that provides relevant historical context with photographs and lists to enhance the reader's experience.


5,000 Ways is not chronological but thematic in its organization. The book can be read cover-to-cover, but it makes a great "jump around" book too. The scope is so broad that no matter how you experience it, you're certain to learn things about the Motor City that will delight and educate you. Of course, the automobile business is well-represented, but chapters on Detroit's music scene, pop culture, fads, shopping centers, and local television personalities will delight young and old alike. But this book doesn't shy away from the city's tragic history and strives to give a balanced account of race relations in the city.


When people discover I'm from Detroit, I often get a condescending response. Too many Americans know Detroit only through photographs of the city's urban ruins at the end of the last century, but they fail to acknowledge the great strides Detroit has made in the twenty-first century. The City of Detroit has a legacy and cache that younger generations of Detroiters and Europeans recognize and are excited about. 5,000 Ways goes a long way to rekindle an appreciation for a wounded city too tough to die.

5,000 Ways is available at select bookstores in the Detroit or Windsor area.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Coca-Cola Santa Story


Santa's origin can be traced back to ancient Germanic folklore and the Norse god Odin. The modern character of Santa was embraced by America with the 1823 publication of Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas"--better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast created the first Santa images based on Clement's fifty-six line poem.


Haddon Sundblom at work.
Michigan artist Haddon Sundblom painted the iconic image we now recognize as Santa Claus--for the Coca-Cola company from 1931 until 1964. These images appeared in Coke's print advertising, store displays, billboards, posters, calendars, and on television commercials. Sundblom helped make Santa the most recognizable and successful pitchman in advertising history.

The Coca-Cola Santa story: http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/coke-lore-santa-claus/

Monday, November 20, 2017

Detroit/Windsor Sock-Hop-Jock Robin Seymour

Robin Seymour at the height of his popularity.
Robin Henry Seymour began his career in radio as a child actor on The Lone Ranger show on WXYZ in Detroit. Eventually, he became one of the country's most popular disc-jockeys. During World War II, Seymour spent part of his enlistment as a DJ on Armed Forces Radio.

Seymour's civilian broadcasting career resumed in 1947 in Dearborn, Michigan at WKMH. The newly formed radio station played mainstream pop music with news, sports, and weather segments. Soon, Seymour became the station's top jock who appealed to many of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario listeners. Seymour championed early rock & roll artists and was one of America's first DJs to play doo-wop music and black rhythm & blues which was labeled race music in those days.

As his popularity grew, Seymour began live appearances with his "Original Rock-n-Roll Revue" at Detroit's legendary Fox Theater. Seymour's personal theme song "Boppin' with the Robin" was recorded in 1956 by a group popular at the time--The Four Lads. They were accompanied by the Percy Faith Orchestra.

Canadian broadcaster CKLW hired Seymour to host a television teen dance show in 1963 entitled Teen Town, modeled on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Clark's show was broadcast nationally, but Seymour's regional show was wildly popular in the greater Detroit area.

With the help of rising Motown artists, the show gained popularity and was rebranded as Swinging Time. Local teens would dance to Top 40 hits and two kids were chosen from the audience to rate new records with an "aye" or a "nay." National acts performing in Detroit or Windsor appeared on Swinging Time to promote their live shows and records.

Seymour had the good fortune to feature virtually all the Motown artists--The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, and the list goes on. Swinging Time introduced white suburban teens to local black performers, helping bridge the racial divide in heavily segregated Detroit.

In addition to Motown artists, many local white rock group performers appeared on Seymour's show--people like Glenn Frey, Mitch Ryder, Ted Nugent, and Bob Seger. Because of technical limitations in those days, all of the performers lip-synced their records. The most frequently booked local group on his show was The Rationals--an Ann Arbor garage band.


Robin Seymour today.
When CKLW changed ownership in 1968, Robin Seymour was replaced by Tom Shannon, another popular Detroit DJ. America was undergoing drastic political and social turmoil and the music reflected that change. Ever try to dance to psychedelic music? The show dropped in the ratings and ended its run in 1969.

Robin Seymour is in his nineties living in San Antonio, Texas to be near family. He is currently working on his autobiography.

Robin Seymour's "Boppin' with the Robin" theme song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJFyQuvGG8g

Early Bob Seger performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMUrxXwL-NM

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bonnie and Clyde's Letter to Henry Ford

Bonnie and Clyde
The era of the Public Enemy in America was from 1931 through 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression. Names like John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and Baby Face Nelson blazed across the headlines, but none of these criminals captured the imagination of the American public more than Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, whose daring exploits were romanticized by Midwesterners down on their luck. The press glamorized them in newspapers, news reels, and pulp mystery magazines. Their hardscrabble life on the road was anything but glamorous.

When Clyde teamed up with his brother Buck and various other gang members, the press referred to them as the Barrow Gang. Originally, they were cast as underdogs fighting a corrupt banking system and developed the urban myth of robbing the rich and giving to the poor.

Bonnie Parker with cigar.
On March 22, 1933, the gang narrowly escaped capture and left a cache of stolen weapons, a handwritten poem by Bonnie entitled the "Story of Suicide Sal", and a camera with three rolls of undeveloped film. The staged photos led to Bonnie's glamorization. Some showed Bonnie pointing guns at Clyde and one had her smoking a cigar. W.D. Jones, surviving gang member, testified that Bonnie never smoked cigars or shot at any policeman. She did chain smoke Camel cigarettes.

Clyde's favorite weapon was the .30 caliber Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) stolen from an armory. The gang also favored "whippet" guns (sawed-off shotguns) they could conceal under overcoats, and a variety of hand guns. The gang is credited with twelve bank robberies, but they preferred to rob small stores and rural gas stations. They killed nine police officers and a number of civilians who were unfortunate enough to get in their way. Their cold-bloodedness eventually soured the public's perception of the outlaws.

The Texas Department of Corrections contacted retired legendary Texas Ranger Frank A. Hamer. It could be argued that Hamer was more lethal than his quarry Clyde Barrow. Hamer was credited with fifty-three kills and surviving seventeen gunshot wounds. Law enforcement investigators studied the gang's movements and determined to set an ambush for them. The gang swung in a circle of five Midwestern states exploiting the "state line" law that prevented police from pursuing fugitives from one jurisdiction into another. 


On March 23, 1934 at 9:15 am, a posse of four Texas Rangers and two Louisiana officers hid behind roadside bushes waiting for Bonnie and Clyde to drive by. The posse heard Barrow's stolen Ford V8 speeding down the country road. The car slowed down when Clyde recognized a truck broken down on the side of the dirt road as belonging to a gang member's father whose farm they were hiding out at. When Clyde stopped the car offering to help, the posse opened up on the couple. First they emptied their BARs into the Ford, then they let go with a shotgun barrage, and finally they emptied their handguns. Though legend holds that each body was riddled with as many as fifty rounds apiece, coroner Dr. J.L. Wade's autopsy report documents seventeen bullet wounds on Clyde's body and twenty-six on Bonnie's body. Their remains were buried separately in Texas cemeteries.

A mere month before their deaths, automobile magnate Henry Ford received a letter proported to be from Clyde himself praising Mr. Ford's new V8 models. This letter is on display at the (Henry) Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.


Handwriting experts dispute the authenticity of the Barrow letter. The cursive does not compare favorably with a letter Clyde wrote to his mother two years earlier, but the letter compares more favorably with Bonnie's handwriting. You be the judge! Compare the writing samples in the link listed below that includes a letter reputed to be sent to Henry Ford by John Dillinger.

Ford letter handwriting samples: http://texashideout.tripod.com/comparison.html

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Scarab Club--Heart of Detroit's Arts Scene

Despite celebrating its one-hundred and tenth anniversary as the center of Detroit, Michigan's artist community, the Scarab Club is relatively unknown to many people in the greater Detroit area. In its heyday, the club held themed costume balls annually from 1917 through the 1950s, with as many as 1,800 Detroiters in attendance. 

To revitalize the club, current Executive Director Ashley Hennen told me when I visited in October that the club is rebranding itself to attract more local artists, art lovers, and the general public. In spring of 2016, the Mars Agency was hired to update the club's logo, their website, and their outreach programs. The club's new motto is We Know Detroit by Art.

The original club was named for master marine and landscape painter Robert Hopkins (1832-1909). After a successful showing of his work at The Detroit Museum of Art in 1907, Hopkins and his fellow artists formed an artists' club. They named the Hopkins Club in his honor. The original mission of the club has changed little over the years.
  • promote the mutual acquaintance of art lovers and artists
  • stimulate and guide the artistic sense of the people of Detroit
  • advance the knowledge and love of the fine arts
  • maintain a clubhouse for entertainment and social purposes
  • and provide working and exhibit facilities for artist members

Scarab detail over club entrance.
In 1913, the club changed its name to the Scarab Club and adopted the Egyptian symbol of rebirth--the scarab beetle--as its mascot. The three story brick building that currently houses the Scarab Club was designed by member architect Lancelot Sukert and opened in October of 1928. It is located at 217 Farnsworth Street amidst Detroit's Historic Museum District.

The exterior architecture of the building is Renaissance Revival. A glazed terracotta scarab emblem adorns the south facade. The club has a great deal of history and tradition. The building is listed on the United States National Registry of Historic Places, it is designated a Michigan Historical Site, and it is entered on the Register of Historic Buildings for Detroit.

Signing in on October 20, 2017.
The interior of the clubhouse is finished in the Arts and Craft style popular in the early twentieth-century. Club member Alfred Nygard carved and painted the scarab panel poised above the guest book as visitors enter the front lobby. The main floor is used as a gallery and performance area. The second floor was a members-only lounge in its early days. Above the fireplace is a mural painted on pine planks by Paul Honore in 1928 entitled "The Scarab Club Family Tree."

Early in the club's history, the ceiling beams of the members only lounge served as the club's guest book. Poet Vachel Lindsay is said to be the first to sign. Over two-hundred and thirty others have signed the beams including Norman Rockwell, Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, William Milliken (Michigan governor), and John Sinclair. The third floor has six working studios not open to the public.

William (Bill) Bostick in 1980.
The Scarab Club was originally a men's-only organization. Women were not permitted above the first floor gallery. William Bostick joined the club in 1937 and acted as president and chairman of various committees. He was to become administrator of the Detroit Institute of Arts from 1946 until his retirement in1976. Bostick championed inclusion of women into the club. He remembered his mothers' disappointment when she was not allowed to practice her profession as an archeologist because women were forbidden to go on digs with men. Bostick shamed the club's board to include women for auxillary membership. Women were given full membership rights in 1962.

Scarab panel detail.
The Scarab Club serves the visual, the literary, and the musical arts. Since 1998, the club has instituted Chamber Music at the Scarab Club and the Blues Heritage Concert Series, but the original mission remains intact. The Scarab Club "continues to be a driving force in the artistic community and is proud to serve Michigan as a cultural stimulant for artistic diversity in the 21st century."

For more information contact: www.scarabclub.org

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

WEMU "Hidden In Plain Sight" Broadcast--John Norman Collins

Photo taken by Nicole Fribourg.
On October 18th, 2017, WEMU in Ypsilanti, Michigan asked me to record my observations while touring some of the landmarks of John Norman Collins's serial killing spree in Washtenaw County in the late 1960s. One link takes you to the internet article; the other takes you to the audio.

My remarks are based on my true crime book Terror In Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked available in a paperback edition, all ebook formats, and an audiobook at http://www.amazon.com/Gregory-A.-Fournier/e/B00BDNEG1C

Link to the WEMU article: http://wemu.org/post/hidden-plain-sight-terror-ypsilanti#stream/0

Link to MP3 audio: https://cpa.ds.npr.org/wemu/audio/2017/10/terror_in_ypsi.mp3