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 

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