Thursday, July 5, 2018

Detroit Festival of Books Is Just Around the Corner

Take Interstate 94 to Russell St. exit (216A). Go south for a few blocks. Ample parking nearby.

For information about my books, check out my author site at

Sunday, July 1, 2018

White Castle Rules!

One of my guilty pleasures when flying into Detroit is stopping at the White Castle on Telegraph Road and Northline. My favorite item is the #2 combo--two double-cheese burgers and fries with a medium soft drink. The family-owned chain services the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states, so most of the country is unaware of this delectable taste treat.

White Castle slider
Their signature product consists of a thin square of 100% ground beef with five steam holes punched into it. The patty is cooked on a bed of diced onions and topped with a steamed hamburger bun, dressed with dill pickles, mustard and ketchup, and served up in a cardboard sleeve. One food critic called it "French onion soup on a bun." To be honest, either you love them or you hate them.

Walter A. Anderson began his restaurant career working at food stands in Wichita, Kansas. In 1916, he bought an obsolete streetcar and converted it into a diner. He had opened two more diners by the time he met businessman Edgar Wolds "Billy" Ingram and co-founded the first White Castle restaurant on an original investment of $700 in 1921.

White Castle #1
Since the publication of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair in 1906 exposing the unsanitary practices of the meat packing industry in Chicago, Americans were reluctant to eat ground beef. Aware of this, the White Castle founders sought to change the public's perception by stressing cleanliness in their restaurants and high quality ingredients.

Their earliest buildings had white enameled brick exteriors and enameled steel counters. By the 1930s, the chain's restaurants were built with prefabricated white-porcelain enameled steel exteriors and outfitted with stainless steel counters. Buildings were designed so customers could see their food being prepared by employees who had to conform to a strict dress code. White Castle produced the first disposable paper hats, napkins, and cardboard sleeves to package their product.

Short-order cook Walter Anderson is credited with the invention of the hamburger bun and the assembly-line kitchen which replaced experienced cooks with employees who could operate the griddle with minimal training. Chain-wide standardization assured the same product and service at all their locations. Often imitated but never duplicated, numerous earlier competitors were unable to match White Castle's success.

The fast-food industry we take for granted today was unknown in America before the White Castle chain. Anderson and Ingram gave rise to the fast-food phenomenon. There was no infrastructure to support their business expansion, so Anderson and Ingram established centralized bakeries, meat suppliers, branded paper manufacturing, and warehouses to supply their system's needs.

In 1933, Anderson sold his half of the business to Billy Ingram. The following year, the company moved its corporate offices to Columbus, Ohio, the center of their distribution area. Ingram's business savvy is credited for the popularity of the hamburger in America.

Since the beginning, White Castle has been privately owned, and none of its restaurants are franchised. Founder Billy Ingram retired in 1958 as CEO, followed by his son E.W. Ingram Jr, and then his grandson E.W. Ingram III. In December 2015, Ingram III stepped down and his daughter Lisa Ingram became the fourth CEO of the company.

The Ingram family's refusal to franchise or take on debt throughout the company's existence has kept the chain relatively small with only about 420 outlets--all in the United States. By comparison, McDonald's has 36,000 outlets worldwide with 14,000 of those in the United States. In recent years, White Castle has been selling sliders at supermarkets nationwide.

On January 27, 2015, White Castle opened its first outlet in the western United States at the Casino Royale Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip--the chain's first expansion into a different state in fifty-six years. On its first day of business, the restaurant had to close for two hours to restock their depleted supplies. In its first twelve hours of operation, the store sold 4,000 sliders per hour. It appears that I'm not the only one who enjoys this guilty pleasure.

Delray, Detroit and O-So Pop:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Richard Streicher Jr. Murder" Book Reveal

During the depths of the Great Depression in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a seven-year-old boy is found frozen to death under the Frog Island Footbridge in Depot Town after being reported missing the night before by his parents.

Upon closer examination, the Washtenaw County Coroner discovered the child was the victim of foul play. Local gossips and some police were convinced they knew who the guilty party was, but proving it in a court of law was a different matter.

At the behest of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and through the research efforts of docents George Ridenour and Lyle McDermott, I bring you the true story of this notorious Ypsilanti murder mostly forgotten for over eighty years.

The paperback is available online through Amazon and B&N, and all five digital ebook formats. Link to Amazon site:

Monday, June 4, 2018

Allen Park Wrestler Lou Klein and Protege Heather Feather

Lou Klein
Allen Park, Michigan resident Lou Klein began his pro-wrestling career in 1941 after dominating the Michigan amateur ranks and earning four national titles. In the beginning of his pro-career, Kline donned a mask and wrestled as the Green Hornet so he could earn a living while protecting his amateur standing. For a time, he wrestled with Red Bastien in a tag team, but most of his career he worked as a single performer known to be a "scientific" wrestler. Early on, Klein's tag line was "The Atomic Blond from Detroit" and later in his career "The Man of a Thousand Holds." His signature finish moves were the Boston Crab and the Atomic Drop. After thirty-six years of competing in the squared circle, Klein retired on July 9, 1977.

Later in his career, Kline was known as a developer and promoter of new talent which he would manage into the professional ranks. In the 1960s, Klein leased a vacant building which had been the Allen Park Poultry Company where you could buy a live chicken and have it butchered. Kline converted the space into a wrestling school with a workout gym. In addition to teaching wrestling holds, and counter holds, he prepared new-comers for the professional ranks and pro-wrestling's secret code of Kayfabe--the representation of a staged event as genuine and authentic.

Kayfabe required wrestlers to stay in character in the ring and in public and not give away trade secrets. Kayfabe can be considered a verbal non-disclosure agreement. This three-syllable word is a Pig Latin carny term for "Be Fake" spelled backwards. If anyone came backstage who wasn't in the business for example, security or someone else would shout out "Kayfabe!" and the alert would travel through the ranks. Then, the wrestlers would put on their game faces for the press or whomever the interloper was.

In addition to his gym and wrestling school, Klein owned the local Tastee Freeze on Allen Road. Occasionally in the summer, Klein would set up a ring outside next to his gym or ice cream shop and let the kids play on it. Klein and some of his wrestling cohorts would teach the guys some grappling moves. My Allen Park High School friends Mick Osman and Earl Rennie made pocket money helping set up the ring for local promotions. Jack Ulrich remembers setting up and breaking down rings for Klein in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Heather Feather
One of Lou Kline's proteges was Allen Park resident Peggy Jones. He first met Peggy when she was working the counter at the Thunderbowl bowling alley. At 5' 10" and weighing over 300#, Peggy always stood out from the crowd at North Junior High and suffered more than her share of verbal abuse and body shaming. Kline approached her about coming to the gym and begin training for a possible new career.

She did and four months later, Kline--acting as Peggy's manager--introduced her to Big Time Wrestling promoter Eddie (The Sheik) Farhat. What Peggy lacked in speed and wrestling prowess, she made up in bulk and strength. But there were two things Peggy needed to go pro--a gimmick and a stage name.

For a gimmick, Farhat had Peggy primarily wrestle men as a parody of feminism and the growing woman's equal rights movement of the 1970s. For a stage name, Farhat came up with Heather Feather. She wrestled throughout the Midwest, but Detroit was her home base. Feather would hang ringside during a bout and taunt the male wrestlers trying to shame them into a match. Then in an unscheduled ringside interview with the announcer, she would amplify her challenge making the men look weak and cowardly. The crowd loved it. Heather Feather was the first woman to wrestle and pin a man and soon became a fan favorite.

The Fabulous Moola and her crew.
Her debut match was an eight-woman Battle Royale in Detroit at Cobo Hall. Several of the lady wrestlers with great effort threw the newcomer into the front row seats. Heather Feather was the first woman eliminated that night. Peggy was black and blue for her pains, but she was $200 richer. Her tenure lasted five years from 1973 until 1978. 

Toward the end of her career, Feather wrestled an eight-foot-tall bear in an interspecies match. Victor, the bear, was found as an orphan cub and rescued. Pro-wrestler Tuffy Truesdell purchased the bear and trained him to wrestle humans. Victor wore a muzzle and was declawed. Truesdell and Victor toured the wrestling circuit as a novelty act. The bear was undefeated by over 100 men but could only get a draw against Feather. Once again, she bested the men but left the bear's undefeated record intact.

Heather Feather was one of the featured wrestlers in a wrestling mockumentary called I Like to Hurt People. In a rare break from the Kayfabe code of silence, the film's host Dr. Sonia Freidman asked Feather, "What's a nice twenty-three-year-old-girl doing in this racket?"

Out of character, Peggy answered, "It's really kinda hard to say. There are lots of reasons why I'm in it. Mainly it's a way of proving myself. A way of making me something in life. Have you ever met a girl built like Rosie Grier (famous 1960s football player)? I've been this tall and this weight since I was twelve. I won't lie, it was tough growing up."

When Dr. Freidman asked Feather how long she thought she would last in her chosen profession, she answered truthfully, "A girl can only last as long as she looks young. As soon as she starts looking old, she's done for. A man can do this until he drops dead in the ring." It wasn't long after this candid interview that Heather Feather was released from her wrestling contract. Kayfabe had been violated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Detroit's Wrestling Titans

If you grew up in Detroit in the 1950s through the 1970s, chances are you remember Big Time Wrestling (BTW) on WXYZ--Channel 7 which aired on Saturdays at 3:30 pm until 4:30 pm with announcer Fred Wolfe. BTW captured the rough and tumble world of Detroit's blue collar angst. Detroit wrestling fans had a strong work ethic, respect for fair play, and a hatred for dirty tactics and cheating. They particularly loved grudge matches, loser leaves town matches, and wars of attrition which could last twenty minutes or more. BTW wrestlers were not pretty boys from the West Coast or elite snobs from the East Coast--they were blue collar heroes who had to work for a living. 

Dick, the Bruiser
Early wrestling story lines involved coastal invaders coming into our town bragging how tough they were. They would abuse and destroy our mid-level wrestlers trying to climb the ranks and then turn and insult the crowd proclaiming Motor City wrestlers weren't that tough. They would leave town, then a month or so later, these sore winners would return to wrestle our top guys and get their clocks cleaned. A notable exception to this rule was the most hated wrestler in the business--Dick, the Bruiser. He beat the hell out of everyone. In and out of the ring.

Leaping Larry Chene (not Shane)
Some of Detroit's fan favorites were Lou Kline--the Man of a Thousand Holds, Dick "Mr. Michigan" Garza, Haystack Calhoun, Bobo Brazil, Ernie Ladd, Killer Kowalski, George "The Animal" Steele, the Junkyard Dog, and my favorite, Leaping Larry Chene.

Chene (Arthur Lawrence Beauchene) was tragically killed at the age of thirty-five in an early morning car accident on October 2, 1964 while returning home to Michigan from a match in Moline, Illinois the previous night. Leaping Larry Chene was a credit to his profession and sorely missed by his fans.

That same year, Edward Farhat and his father-in-law bought the BTW television rights and secured exclusive rights to promote wrestling events at Cobo Arena for a mere $50,000. Edward Farhat, better known as The Sheik, was the most hated wrestler in Detroit. Farhat's character usually came out dressed in a robe and an Arab headress. He wore wrestling shoes with exaggerated pointed toes and had a camel printed on his wrestling shorts. The Sheik was the focus of Detroit's frustration with the Middle Eastern oil crisis, and The Sheik did everything he could but set a Ford Pinto on fire in the middle of the squared circle to incite the crowd against him.

Rocky Johnson is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's father.
The Sheik's signature move was the Camel Clutch, but he was also known for "blinding" his opponents with his patented magic fire ball effect. Once his opponent was disoriented, The Sheik would attack him mercilessly and stretch him out for a win. Usually, medics stood by to roll the loser out of the arena on a gurney while the crowd gave the man a howling ovation. As a kid, I was mesmerized by the fireball. A few years later, I discovered that magician's flash paper could be purchased at any magic or novelty shop in town.
The Sheik with his manager son.
Under Farhat's leadership, BTW matches suddenly became edgier and bloodier with ethnic overtones. In the 1970s and 1980s, Detroit faced the oil crisis and stiff competition from foreign competitors. Farhat imported Japanese wrestlers like Kenuke Honda and Toyota Matahashi to exploit this economic reality. 

The Japanese tag team worked their way up the ranks until they won the BTW title belt by throwing Sumo salt into the eyes of their opponents--shades of The Sheik's fire ball move. Then, in front of rabid Detroit fans, the Japanese wrestlers destroyed the officially sanctioned title belt and replaced it with one made in Japan. They bragged their belt was better quality and less expensive. Those were fighting words in Detroit and the new champions were led out of the arena under police protection and left the country with the belt--as the narrative went. In professional wrestling, the line between reality and fantasy gets blurred, and if you can get the crowd fired up, that's money in the bank.

The Camel Clutch
When the national economy went belly up in 1980, BTW could no longer draw big crowds to fill Cobo Arena or other big venues in the Midwest. The advent of cable TV and two national wrestling federations--one out of Stamford, Connecticut and the other out of Atlanta, Georgia--helped spell the death knell for regional promotions. Professional wrestling went dark in Detroit.

Alex Karris meets Dick, the Bruiser at Lindell's AC sports bar:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

John Norman Collins Canadian Connection

When I speak to people about the Washtenaw County murders of the late 1960s, I am usually asked, "Have you been in contact with any of John Norman Collins's family?" My answer is always, "I've made several attempts without success."

JNC's older brother and his late sister were steadfast in their silence about their notorious younger brother. Neither of John's siblings bear any responsibility for what their brother did; regardless, they both paid a heavy personal price and are victims of the collateral damage from the very public and court case. They chose not to comment--well within their rights.

John Norman Collins (13), his brother (16), and sister (15) - December 30th, 1960.
The Collins' family wall of silence is a legacy from their mother, Loretta--the family matriarch. She was the sole ruler and spokesperson for the family during her son's trial and afterward. Not even John was allowed to speak in his own defense. Now that Loretta is gone, no one speaks for the family. I had just about given up establishing contact with anyone in the Collins clan when I received an unexpected email from a surprising source.

"My name is John (Philip) Chapman; I am John Norman Collins's Canadian cousin. I've been in contact with my cousin since 1981, thirty-two years now--and I have some interesting information I would be willing to share with you pertaining to John's family history and facts he has revealed to me. 

"I normally would never get involved, however, after reading your blog post--Treading on the Grief of Others in the John Norman Collins Case--I agree a debt is owed to history that must be paid.

"My heart truly goes out to those young women and their families who had their daughters taken away from them too soon. If there is anything I can share with you to help, I would be happy to do so."

John Philip Chapman appeared exactly when we needed him most. My researcher Ryan M. Place and I had worked for three years to get someone from the Collins family to speak with us about John's early family history.

Richard Chapman in 1944 on motorcycle seen with his friend Fred Higgins who saved his life.
"John's father--my Uncle Rich--was a light-infantry officer and an explosives/demolition expert in His Majesty's Canadian Services. He lost his left leg in 1944 during the Second World War. After his injury, he spent weeks in a military hospital recovering from battle fatigue and physical complications before being shipped home to Canada. He was on medication for the rest of his life. My uncle lived until 1988.

"I want to correct a public inaccuracy. Uncle Richard was never abusive towards his children or my Aunt Marjorie (Loretta went by her middle name in Canada). He never abandoned his children and never would. My aunt divorced my uncle for alleged 'extreme mental cruelty.' Uncle Rich loved his children very much, however, due (to) the amount of lies Aunt Marjorie put in their heads, they didn't want to be bothered with him. Hoping to avoid dragging their children through a bitter divorce, my uncle gave Aunt Marjorie what she wanted--full custody. My cousin Gail learned the truth shortly before her Dad passed away."

According to Chapman, "My Aunt Marjorie's family felt Uncle Rich was not good enough for their daughter. He wasn't Catholic. Her parents didn't like their son-in-law and offered him money to disappear.... I know for a fact that my Uncle Rich never took the money."

John Philip Chapman
John Philip explained that he had been writing his cousin John (Collins) in prison since he (Chapman) was seven or eight years old. "(Collins) is twenty-five years older than me and has always been like a big brother. In our letters, he refers to me as 'Little Brother'." John Philip Chapman explained that he was an only child and found comfort in the attention from his older American cousin who became a virtual 'Big Brother' for him.

Somehow, Chapman managed to remain ignorant of his older cousin's crimes. Over the years, Chapman maintained a "Don't ask - Don't tell" policy regarding his cousin's imprisonment. After all, Collins had insisted he was innocent of the Karen Sue Beineman murder. Collins also complained in his letters that he was victimized by a rogue cop (Sheriff Douglas Harvey), an overzealous prosecutor (William Delhey), and a corrupt legal system looking for a scapegoat. Now forty-one years old, Chapman's personal search for knowledge about his cousin was making him confront his deepest fears.

John Philip Chapman asked if I would be interested in receiving some of his cousin's prison letters. Chapman had noticed a change in tone and intensity in the letters of late, and he wanted me to look at them. Then, Chapman volunteered something unexpected. He offered to see what other information he could find out from his cousin about his crimes. 

Without JNC's knowledge, over the next four months we received a total of nine prison letters from Collins to his cousin. The letters average seven pages and cover a range of subjects, but one theme became more and more prevalent as time went on. Collins was pressing for an international prisoner exchange with Canada. This was Chapman's original motivation for contacting me. He wanted to know if he and his mother had anything to fear from Collins. I told Chapman that I wouldn't feel comfortable with Collins in my house or my neighborhood.

Chapman told me that Collins tried unsuccessfully to get an international prisoner exchange with Canada in 1981. Canada has more liberal sentencing provisions than the United States, so Collins saw parole as a very real possibility. The basis for his repatriation claim was he was born in Canada and held dual citizenship. He claimed he had relatives and a support system there.

But both JNC's father and his uncle refused to offer their sponsorship to Collins after being contacted by authorities on both sides of the Detroit River informing them of the particulars of Collins's crimes. When the Detroit Free Press ran an article about the possible transfer acting on a tip from a Marquette prison inmate, the Michigan Department of Corrections summarily revoked Collins's application for the international prisoner exchange.

John Norman Collins
Thirty-two years later, Collins summoned up the courage to ask his younger cousin--his last Canadian blood relative--to sponsor him for another prisoner transfer attempt in hopes of receiving dispensation for timed served in Michigan. To Collins's way of thinking, all he needed was a relative and a place to stay; then, he could be assigned to a work release program in Canada and be free of his Michigan prison cell and his jailers. Now, it became clear to Chapman what JNC had been driving at for months--the chicken hawk wanted to come home to roost.

Link to the above mentioned blog post:

Monday, May 21, 2018

The "Cure" for Hysterical Women Behind Asylum Walls

Life Magazine advertisement from August 22, 1912.

The concept of the "weaker sex" in the 1800s made women more susceptible to charges of mental illness or emotional breakdown. Before the mid-1800s, women who suffered from depression or mental illness were believed to have an incurable disease of the soul. Many of these women were sent to institutions popularly known as the mad house, the insane asylum, or the nut house. Some were undoubtedly sent to local parish priests for exorcisms.

Because of existing gender stereotypes and a patriarchal society, women who disagreed with their husbands or families could be committed without formal legal proceedings or medical exigency. Institutional records indicate that women were labeled mentally ill and committed at a much higher rate than their male counterparts.

Biddy Hughes was Michigan's Eloise Asylum's first official mental patient. She was committed by her family in 1841 when she was in her mid-thirties. She was kept behind locked doors until her death fifty-eight years later.

Being a woman in the nineteenth century would make any woman hysterical--a collective term then used to describe all manner of women's mental health issues--ranging from menstruation-related issues, pregnancy-related issues, post-partum depression, chronic fatigue, and anxiety. The word hysteria derives from the Ancient Greek word for womb--thus womb disease.

Asylums were essentially warehouses for non compliant women. Once committed, these unfortunate women were subjected to a daily life of neglect and abuse. These indignities only drove troubled women deeper into mental illness regardless of why they were there. Insane asylums were not places for treatment or cure of the mentally ill.

Women had no voice to protest nor did they have any advocacy beyond the asylum gates. They lacked the solidarity to stand up for themselves or each other. Once admitted, it was next to impossible to be discharged. Bad treatment by attendants and terrible living conditions led to many asylum suicides from constant harassment, violence, loneliness, and despair.

In the Victorian age, the perfect wife did not demand time or rights for herself. She was supposed to be subservient to the needs of her family. Her husband in particular. Women with strong personalities and active minds could never conform to that role without sacrificing the core of their beings. Unsatisfied and vindictive husbands could have their wives committed for stepping outside the boundaries of her role as a wife.

Married women were sent to asylums for nymphomania, promiscuity, bearing an illegitimate child, or being the victim of rape. Women who practiced sex outside of marriage were accused of moral imbecility and could be committed for the public good. Many husbands used commitment as a convenient alternative to divorce.

By the mid-nineteenth century, doctors began regarding mental illness as a medical problem. With little formal training, they tested their quack theories on mentally ill patients. Perhaps the most egregious example of a gratuitous treatment was devised by male doctors who created a condition they called Hysterical Paroxysm.

Doctors would give female patients "pelvic massages" to release the women's pent-up libido and frustrations. It wasn't long before women were being treated for frustration and anxiety as outpatients in doctors' offices. After the electric vibrator was invented towards the end of the century, women could effect this treatment in the privacy of their own homes.

Doctors of this era believed women who tried to improve their station in life by asserting their independence, getting an education, or living outside the family unit without a husband were considered suspect. Women who were outspoken, volatile, or expressed discontent were labeled mad if they refused to fit the stereotypical mold of the passive housewife. Many women were driven to mental illness by the rigid strictures polite society imposed upon them.

Mental health researchers in the Victorian age devised three archetypes of the mad woman:
  1. The Ophelia (named after the heroine in Hamlet). These women were pliant and pleasant--code words for easy to control.
  2. The Crazy Jane. These patients represented psychotic women who were clearly disturbed and needed to be watched.
  3. The Lucia (named after Renaissance poisoner Lucretia Borgia). These patients were prone to violence and considered dangerous.
Imposing these labels on women was a way for men to garner further control over women and possess them more thoroughly. Doctors of the day warned against any activity that might change a woman's domestic status. Suffragettes and women's rights advocates were particularly troublesome for the status quo and challenged the system.

Meanwhile, Edith Lanchester was committed in 1895 by her brother for refusing to marry. She was diagnosed as insane by reason of "over-education" while her brother took full possession and ownership of their jointly inherited estate.

"When We Called the Insane Asylum Eloise" link:

Monday, May 14, 2018

When We Called the Insane Asylum Eloise

Gates outside of Eloise Asylum Building - 1940
In 1839, two years after Michigan was made a state, Wayne County bought a 166-acre farm for $800 in Nankin Township in what is now Westland. The land bordered the Old Chicago Road (Michigan Avenue) leading to Ypsilanti and parts west. The purchase included several farm buildings and a log cabin known as the Black Horse Tavern. After a wing was added, the cabin became the new Wayne County Poorhouse housing thirty-five destitute people.

The poorhouse was two days travel by stagecoach from Detroit. The unspoken truth was county officials wanted somewhere to send the dregs of society--vagrants, vagabonds, drunkards, thieves, and brawlers. Soon, the insane and feeble-minded were housed there. The mentally ill were housed on the upper floor of the pig barn chained to the timber framing. It wasn't until 1881 when the asylum's first medical superintendent took over the supervision of the mentally ill and ordered the chains be removed.

In 1872, 157 acres adjacent to the poor house was purchased from the Cady family. Over time, the Eloise complex became a self-sufficient community with its own dairy farm, pig farm, bakeries, a slaughterhouse, a greenhouse, a cannery, a tobacco field, a laundry, a police department, a fire station, and a powerhouse. At its height, the complex housed over 12,000 people with 3,000 people working throughout the grounds.

It wasn't until 1894 that the Wayne County Poorhouse was renamed. The United States Postmaster General approved Nankin Township's petition for a post office of their own. The Postmaster established an order that new post offices have only short names of one or two words not resembling any other post office in their state.

Eloise Dickerson
Recently retired, Detroit postmaster Freeman B. Dickerson was largely responsible for the establishment of the post office in the township. As president of the board, he suggested the post office be named after his four-year-old daughter Eloise. The board agreed and sent her name to Washington D.C., and it was approved on July 20. In what must have been a grand gesture to his only child, had Mr. Dickerson known that his daughter's name would become synonymous with one of the largest mental institutions in the United States, he would have chosen more wisely.

Eloise patients in straight jackets waiting to see doctors.
The Wayne County Poor House became known simply as Eloise. The complex consisted of a psychiatric hospital for the mentally ill and criminally insane, a poor house for the indigent, and an infirmary for tuberculosis victims. The Eloise complex grew to over 902 acres with seventy-eight buildings. The facility was plagued by reports of patient abuse, beatings, neglect, unsanitary conditions, and serious overcrowding--as many as 125 women shared five toilets. The mentally ill had no voice in their treatment which might include electroshock therapy, insulin-inducted comas, and lobotomies.

In 1955, the Michigan Society of Mental Health calculated that on a per patient basis, Wayne County General was the most expensive mental hospital in the world. Farming ceased in 1958. As unused buildings at the complex were closed, most were razed rather than repurposed. Tunnels once used to shuttle patients between buildings were sealed off at access points.

By the 1960s, new theories for treatment of the mentally ill were developing. Psychiatrists began experimenting with brain chemistry treating patients with pills and powders. The problem of mental illness in America grew so large that institutions couldn't house everyone who needed services.

A new approach evolved called deinstitutionalism. Mental hospitals no longer provided long term care but returned patients to society as soon as possible managing their treatment through home care outreach or half-way houses. Those who slipped through cracks in the system made a life on the streets by sleeping in cardboard boxes or living in culverts or under freeway overpasses. Some panhandled for spare change while others railed at the sky and the demons tormenting their souls. Many of these unfortunate people ended up in the criminal justice system. The psychiatric buildings at Eloise were vacated in 1973. Psychiatric care ended in 1977 when the State of Michigan took over mental health services from the county. In 1979, the name of the hospital was changed to Wayne County General.

Between the 1890s through the late 1940s, Eloise had its own morgue and three cemeteries with 7,145 burials of unclaimed bodies--each grave marked by a cement block with a number molded into it. The burials were discontinued in 1948 when the Michigan legislature passed a law to use the bodies of unclaimed wards of the state as cadavers for medical training.

Women's Mental Health in the nineteenth century:

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Great Migration North to Detroit

In what was the largest internal migration of any group in American history, the Great Migration saw six million African Americans migrating from the South to the North drawn by improved economic opportunities and hopes of a better life. Black Americans were also escaping segregation and discriminatory "Jim Crow" laws in the South.

Another factor for the diaspora was the release of the movie Birth of a Nation in 1915 which portrayed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a heroic force protecting the purity of white womanhood against sexually aggressive freed slaves after the Civil War. The D.W. Griffith film opened to nationwide protests and demonstrations.

"Birth of a Nation" still. The black man was played by a white actor in blackface.
After a private screening, President Woodrow Wilson released a public statement calling the film "Unfortunate." With the film's general release, the South experienced a resurgence of KKK domestic terrorism driving more black Americans North. Most of the migrants were unskilled laborers and service industry workers--not rural farm workers.

From 1910 through 1929, Detroit experienced the fastest growing African American population in the United States--a 611% increase. During the same period, New York City had a 66% increase and Chicago had a 148% increase. Blacks settled primarily on Detroit's lower east side in a concentrated neighborhood called Black Bottom--originally named by the French for the dark, fertile soil found there. The area adjacent to Black Bottom became Paradise Valley--famous for its jazz clubs.

Black migrants found fierce competition for living space in Detroit's worst neighborhoods which became segregated slums. Living conditions in Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were bleak with the oldest wooden dwellings in the city--many dating back to the 1860s. Fire was a constant hazard. The buildings were owned by absentee landlords and were poorly maintained. Old hotels and row houses were subdivided into small apartments and boarding houses to increase profits--many without plumbing facilities.

Thinking they had left "Jim Crow" laws enshrining segregation and racism behind, blacks found that in Detroit they were confined to "red lined" neighborhoods backed by real estate covenants preventing them from moving into Detroit's established white neighborhoods or suburbs. Blacks found that racial discrimination and white supremacy were entrenched in the North just as they were in the South.

But there was a significant distinction between the North and the South for blacks in this era. In the South, white people didn't mind living in proximity with blacks. The plantation culture depended upon it. But white people didn't want to work next to blacks. The North was the opposite. White people tolerated working with blacks, but they didn't want black people in their neighborhoods.

The assembly line

Early on, black women overwhelmingly worked in domestic service jobs. Eventually, clerk positions opened up in the retail industry for them. Black men worked in the service industry at hotels, restaurants, passenger trains, and public works. The jobs paid little, offered no fringe benefits, and provided no chance for advancement. Labor shortages during World War One opened up good jobs in shipyards, foundries, steel mills, auto factories, and meat packing. Unskilled black laborers took the most undesirable and dangerous jobs wherever they were employed.

Henry Ford
When Henry Ford announced the Five-Dollar Day in 1914, he also ramped up the hiring of blacks to fill vacancies in the Highland Park Plant. Employee turnover was a problem, and black workers were willing do jobs others would not. This set many black workers on the road to modernity. Beginning in the 1920s, Dodge and Packard began recruiting black workers too.

With improved economic conditions, a black inner city culture developed catering to the needs of African Americans. Churches, markets, bakeries, barber shops, hotels, beauty parlors, clinics, jazz clubs, and adult entertainment developed. But every white and black Detroiter knew where the color lines were and woe to him that crossed them.

The high cost for African Americans penetrating the color line in Detroit is exemplified by the Dr. Ossian Sweet affair in 1925. As a youth in Bartow, Florida, Ossian witnessed the lynching of a black man in 1911. The angry white mob strung up the man while he pleaded for his life. The vigilantes doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. The crowd cheered when the flames enveloped him. Traumatized, the Sweet family moved to Detroit as part of the Great Migration. 

Dr. Ossian Sweet and his wife Gladys
Ossian Sweet managed to secure an education and attend medical school at Wilberforce Academy in Ohio. Between semesters he worked in Detroit as a bellhop at several hotels--one summer he was a vendor at Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park. Dr. Sweet and his family were part of a new demographic--upwardly mobile, black Americans. As a young doctor at Dunbar Memorial Hospital, Sweet wanted to escape the confines and squalor of Detroit's minority-isolated inner city. Dr. Sweet bought a home on Detroit's east side in an all-white, working-class neighborhood.

When word spread of the purchase, whites viewed the incursion into their neighborhood as a violation of their "sacred" real estate covenant. The day the Sweet's moved in, a mob of "neighbors" assembled outside their home on September 8th, 1925 and cursed them with racial slurs. On the second day, the crowd grew to several hundred angry whites. Dr. Sweet and his family were joined by Sweet's two brothers and seven other friends--no doubt for a house warming get-together and a show of moral support. The hostile mob surrounded the house and started throwing rocks and bricks through the windows.

The sound of shattering glass terrorized the group and prompted Ossian's brother Henry to fire two shots at the mob--the first above their heads and the second into the crowd. Leon Breiner took a bullet and died. The Detroit police were conspicuous by their absence until the call went out that a white man had been shot by a black man. Everyone in the Sweet home was arrested, taken to jail, and tried for conspiracy to murder.

Clarence Darrow
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) retained the best lawyer in the land--Chicago civil liberties attorney Clarence Darrow. The first trial lasted four weeks and ended in a mistrial. The second trial focused only on Henry Sweet--the shooter. The prosecution pushed for a murder charge, but the defense insisted that a man's home was his castle, and he had every right to defend it. Henry Sweet was acquitted.

The Sweet trials were a referendum on race relations and segregation in Detroit ushering in a new era of political activism. But the graphic incident showed the risk of violating the city's red-lined neighborhoods. When it became clear to whites that black people were breaching their segregated neighborhoods, growing numbers of white Detroiters began to relocate to the expanding suburbs north, south, and west of the city in a demographic shift known as white flight.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Great Migration slowed during the Depression but picked up again with the coming of World War Two. The Selective Service took many white and black males out of the work force to serve in the military. The war represented a turning point in black employment prospects. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order #8802 creating the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) mandating nondiscrimination in defense industries and government jobs. Industrial work began to eclipse service employment for black men. By the end of the war, African Americans held 8% of defense jobs, up from 3% before the war. Despite the gains for black men, black women were still relegated to domestic work and low wages.

The United States Congress debated making the FEPC permanent, but Southern legislators cut off funding and shut down the program in 1946. It took another twenty years before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to address many of the same issues.

World War II helped transform Detroit's social geography. Several distinct black communities emerged based on income, occupation, and status within black Detroit. Many African Americans fortunate enough to flee the crowded city center left as soon as they could; the rest were left behind to bear the brunt of being trapped in the city's worst housing. Detroit's shifting racial borderlands became battlegrounds for the future of the city. This racial frontier put blacks on a collision course with their white counterparts.

"Detroit Lost Neighborhoods: Black Bottom and Paradise Valley"

Sunday, April 22, 2018

When White Pine was Green Gold in Michigan

"Brag Load" of Logs and Ten Man Crew with a Team of Horses

The Michigan forest landscape was bountiful for early settlers. Rivers and lakes provided plenty of fish and wildlife while the forests and open glades provided game and fowl for hunters. Clearing the land was a slow process with timber cut with axes. The first order of business was throwing up some hasty shelter. Log cabins were built and railings cut for fences to pen livestock. What scrap wood was left became firewood. These small pioneer farms had minimal impact on the environment.

Rapid development of the American East in the first half of the nineteenth century depleted much of the lumber forests east of the Appalachians. By mid-century, New York lumber speculators discovered the vast virgin hardwood forests of Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas--especially the stands of old-growth white and red pine for building materials. Many of these trees were over 200 years old, 200 feet high, and over 5 feet in diameter.

With the invention of the steam-powered circular saw in the 1850s, the lumber business ramped up production. Fortunes were made by enterprising men who had vision and deep pockets. They bought large tracts of private and government land and were quickly dubbed Lumber Barons. They owned the saw mills and set up the system of lumber camps that made more than a few men rich. The "shanty boys" as the owners called the lumberjacks did the heavy lifting. After a harsh winter, they could walk out of the forest with several hundreds of dollars--big money in those days--only to be targets of robbery or worse. The lumber business attracted a tough crowd in and out of the forest like any boom town industry would.

The first great lumber area in the state was Saginaw Bay which fed into Lake Huron. What made this location ideal for the lumber business were the six rivers that converged to form the Saginaw River: the Chippewa, Tittabawassee, Cass, Bad, Shiawassee, and Flint. From 1860 until 1890, most of the trees from the heart of the state were felled and floated down these rivers on their way to the saw mills.

Logging was a cold weather job. The logs were too big and heavy to drag through the woods. The loggers cleared timber roads first. When the roads iced over in winter, huge sleds were loaded with timber and dragged by horses or oxen to the river's edge where they were stacked awaiting the spring thaw; then, the logs were pushed into the swollen rivers and floated down to the lumber mills. Once at the saw mill, the logs were cut into boards, kiln-dried to reduce weight and warping, and loaded onto ships.

Lumber camps were rustic, quickly built, and meant to be temporary. When the land was exhausted of timber, the operation moved on. The camps consisted of a bunk house, a cook shanty with dining room and kitchen, a camp store, a blacksmith's shop, and a barn for the horses. Each camp had about seventy men and two foremen, twenty teams of horses, and seven yoke of oxen. A ten man crew could produce about 100 logs a day with a two-handled, cross-cut saw and double-edged axes.

Lumberjacks worked from sunrise until sunset, six days a week out in the wilderness with little to occupy them. Their pastimes were telling tall tales and playing cards on Sundays, as well as any mischief they could get away with in town if they were near one.

Lumber camps competed with each other to see which outfit could stack the highest load--called a brag load--and pull it twenty feet over the ice with a team of horses. My guess is the winning camp won a wager and a keg of beer along with bragging rights. I hope the horses got a little something extra for their efforts.

Stump Prairie
When the logging industry was finished raping the land, lumber camps were abandoned because owners didn't want to pay taxes on the land they owned, so they simply defaulted and the land went to the state. In all, over nineteen million acres were clear cut with no reforestation strategy, leaving behind barren "stump prairies" contributing to soil erosion, river and lake pollution, more atmospheric carbon dioxide, and degraded wildlife habitat.

One of the few forest animals that benefited from the clear cutting was the whitetail deer. With new open ground for grazing and more abundant and accessible plant food, populations grew. Little good it did them though. By 1876, professional market hunters were killing 70,000 deer each year to supply the booming lumber camps, and ship what they couldn’t sell locally to big cities like Chicago and Detroit that had a taste for venison.

In a report on Michigan Forest History compiled by the Michigan Department of Resources, researchers found that: "Land clearing for agriculture, logging, and settlement altered local stream flow patterns and volumes, eliminated some waters, and introduced pollutants into others. Huge quantities of sediment from log drives and sawdust from sawmills were dumped into rivers. In one instance, the mouth of the Manistee River accumulated sawdust to the extent that it formed a delta of several square miles. At sawmill locations throughout the state, wherever sawdust was dispensed into the river, toxic and oxygen-deprived conditions were created for fish. These detriments, combined with land clearing efforts, exacerbated soil erosion into rivers, significantly reducing the quality of fish habitat in rivers."

The Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling has the only remaining stand of Michigan old growth forest. The park consists of fifteen square miles featuring forty-nine acres of old growth white pine saved from the teeth of the loggers' saw. The land was gifted to Michigan's Department of Natural Resources in 1927 by Karen Michelson Hartwick as a memorial to the logging industry in the name of her husband Edward E. Hartwick--a lumberman killed in World War I.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a logging museum adjacent to the old growth forest in the park to educate visitors about the logging industry. The CCC also hired unemployed men to plant millions of seedlings to reforest Michigan's barren areas, but even after one hundred years, some of the "stump prairies" still exist. On a brighter note, over half of the state is covered by new growth forests.

Michigan Logging History (5 minute video):