Sunday, January 28, 2018

Detroit Tiger Batting Champion Stormin' Norman Cash

Mel Butiscaris at the Lindell A.C.--vintage 1990s.
Former owner of Detroit's legendary Lindell AC sports bar Mel Butsicaris has allowed me to share another of his Lindell A.C. Memories.

This time, Mel's guest post is about Detroit Tiger Stormin' Norman Cash--one of major league baseball's unsung heroes. As a young man, Mel worked in the Lindell for his father and uncle--Johnny and Jimmy Butiscaris. He has no shortage of stories to tell.

***

Stormin' Norman Cash--Number 25.
One of my favorite baseball players of all time is #25 Norman Dalton Cash--"Stormin' Norman." I called him Uncle Norm out of love and respect, not only because he was a great ball player on offense and defense, but also because of the kind of a person he was. He had a heart of gold and cared more about his teammates than himself. Uncle Norm was a humble man who loved life and people. He had an incredible sense of humor with a big heart who treated people of all races and walks of life with respect.

I remember him tipping his hat and tapping his heart to say thank you to a group of fans in the left field upper deck of Tiger Stadium. The fans hung a bed sheet painted with "Who needs money when we have Cash?" He never forgot he was able to play ball because the fans came to see him.

It was Uncle Norm who initiated the souvenier giveaway after the Tiger Saturday matinee games. He would come into the bar after the game with other Tigers like Al Kaline, Gates Brown, Jim Northrup, Earl Wilson, Dick McAuliffe, and Willie Horton. The guys would carry in grocery bags full of game-used balls and batting practice balls. Kids would be lined up out the door waiting to get a free autographed ball from their sports heroes. If an adult would try to get one, he would be told politely that these balls were reserved for the kids. See us after a night game and we'll hook you up. And they did. I am still running into people today who are now adults telling me how they got a free autographed ball at the Lindell.

I have great memories of being twelve years old and playing catch with Uncle Norm when he would come to the house for a dinner party. I had a ball playing "pickle" (monkey in the middle) with him and Sonny Eliot.

One night in the late sixties when the Baltimore Orioles were in town, both teams came to the Lindell. Competing team first basemen Norm Cash and Boog Powell sat on top of the jukebox singing the Johnny Cash ballad "A Boy Named Sue" at the top of their lungs. I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants.

Topps Card--1961
There was another time when Uncle Norm pulled up to the bar driving a Detroit street cleaning truck with water and spinning brushes. He said he wanted to do his part to keep the city clean starting with the alley behind the Lindell. Apparently, the real driver spotted Norm and his wife coming out of a nearby restaurant. The city worker stopped and said he always wanted to meet a big-time ball player. Uncle Norm replied, "I always wanted to drive a street sweeping machine." They both got what they wanted. They enjoyed each other's company driving around downtown Detroit cleaning the streets for about an hour. Norm Cash didn't care about a person's social status, he just loved down to earth people like he was.

You may remember Norm Cash as one of the great Tiger players, but I have been blessed to remember him as an amazing true friend.

Here are some Norman Cash factoids:
  • Cash always used a corked bat.
  • He never chewed tobacco. At the start of every game he put five pieces of Bazooka bubble gum in his mouth.
  • He wore a specially made helmet covered in Tiger fabric with the Detroit emblem, so he didn't have to think about which hat he had on.
  • Stormin' Norman Cash is the only left-handed batter in the last eighty years to hit .360+ and 40+ homeruns in the same season--1961.
  • That same year, Cash led the American League in hitting and won the batting title despite New York Yankee Roger Maris hitting 61 homeruns that season.
  • Cash hit 25 homeruns a year for ten straight years.
  • He was a 5-Time American League All-Star.
  • Cash hit .385 with one homerun in the 1968 Tiger World Series win earning him a championship ring.
  • Cash played fifteen seasons for the Tigers.
  • He was the first Tiger to hit a home run ball out of Tiger Stadium (1961). He went on to hit the ball over the right field roof four more times in his career.
Sadly, Norman Dalton Cash drowned in a boating accident while vacationing with his wife in northern Lake Michigan on October 11, 1986 at the young age of fifty-one. God rest his soul.
***

Monday, January 22, 2018

Little Richard Streicher--Ypsilanti's Depression Era Unsolved Murder

On the blustery afternoon of March 8, 1935, thirteen-year-old Buck Holt and his eleven-year-old brother Billy followed muskrat tracks in the snow and discovered the body of seven-year-old Richard Streicher, Jr., missing since the previous evening. He was found frozen solid under the footbridge leading to Island Park (now called Frog Island), adjacent to the Cross Street bridge spanning the Huron River.

Buck Holt ran to the Anderson Service Station (gas station) across the street and told attendant Raymond Deck (22) there was a dead kid down there. Deck investigated and immediately phoned the Ypsilanti police. Chief Ralph Southard was the first to arrive, followed shortly by Washtenaw County Deputy Sheriff Richard Klavitter, and his brother Sergeant Ernest Klavitter of the Ypsilanti police.

Scene under the footbridge where Streicher's body was discovered.
By the time police arrived, a crowd of curious bystanders had trampled any footprint evidence left in the overnight snow. To further complicate matters, a bucket of sand was spread on the snow to make it safer for investigators to climb down the slope to view the body. The shovel used to spread the sand was used to pry Richard Streicher from the cement ledge he was frozen onto. Then the body was taken to the Moore Funeral Home in Ypsilanti to thaw. Richard Streicher's stiff clothes were cut from his body and burned at the request of his parents. More potential evidence was destroyed.

The autopsy was done at the funeral home rather than a medical facility. Of fourteen knife wounds, three punctured the wall of the heart causing his death. A good-faith police investigation--by Depression era standards--was conducted. Seven months later, Richard Streicher's body was exhumed, with a second autopsy performed by the county coroner's office.

On September 27, 1937, a one-man grand jury was conducted by State Attorney General Raymond W. Starr. He took another look into the case and interviewed close to forty people, but no new evidence was disclosed. The result--nobody charged--nobody indicted. The case remains unsolved over eighty years later.

Richard Streicher, Jr. was buried in Highland Cemetery (Section 16 - Lot 66), but nobody in living memory can say if his grave site ever had a marker or headstone. It has been unmarked for decades. Perhaps someone misplaced the headstone when Richard's body was exhumed. More likely--someone removed it for a macabre souvenir. Nobody knows.

Last year, an article about Richard Streicher, Jr. by John Counts for MLive (December 27, 2015) moved John Sisk, Jr. to start a Go Fund Me page to raise money for a gravestone. With the help of Robison-Bahnmiller Funeral Home in Saline, Michigan, Tina Atkinson-Kalusha of Highland Cemetery, and private donations, a monument was designed to honor the memory of little Richard Streicher. A nineteenth-century sled is engraved in the granite headstone. Richard was last seen alive sledding with friends. A graveside memorial service was held on Saturday, October 15, 2016.

If any of my Ypsilanti readers happen upon Richard's grave in Highland Cemetery, say a prayer for the little guy who deserved better than he got.

John Count's MLive  Richard Streicher article: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/12/ypsilanti_boys_murder_80_years.html 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Connie Kalitta "The Bounty Hunter" vs. Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney


Baby Boomers who grew up in the Detroit area and listened to Windsor radio station CKLW were familiar with advertisements for the Detroit Dragway located at Sibley and Dix. The ads always began with "Saturday, SATURDAY NIGHT, at the DETROIT DRAGWAY." Then the card for the automotive duels would be hyped. If you don't remember or aren't old enough to know what I'm talking about, I have a link to an audio at the end of this post.

Connie Kalitta with top fuel dragster in 1967.
Two of the most popular drag racers of the 1970s and 1980s were Connie Kalitta "The Bounty Hunter" and Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney. Connie was from Mount Clemens, Michigan, and Shirley was from Schenectady, New York. They shared a professional and personal relationship from 1972-1977. Connie gave Shirley a Funny Car he no longer raced and acted as her crew chief for many of her early races. In those days, Shirley was known as "The Huntress." 

Kalitta began drag racing when he was a sixteen-year-old student at Mount Clemens High School. He worked himself up the ranks of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to become one of the sport's top drivers. Known as The Bounty Hunter, Kalitta was the first driver to reach 200 mph in a sanctioned NHRA event. In 1989 at the Winter Nationals, Kalitta was the first driver to break the 290 mph barrier with a 291.54 mph qualifying run.

In all, Kalitta won ten national titles and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992. The NHRA compiled a list of the Top 50 Drivers for their fiftieth-anniversary in 2001. Kalitta ranked 21st on the all-time list, and in 2016, he became the first recipient of the NHRA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kalitta's first NHRA win came in 1964 in Bakersfield, California. In 1967, he won his first NHRA title. With the prize money, he bought his first airplane--a Cessna 310--and started his company Kalitta Air at the Willow Run Airport shipping freight for the Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo)--his racing sponsor. 

Kalitta Air and Kalitta Motorsports company photograph.
For a time, Kalitta retired from racing and directed his attention toward building up his air freight business. Now he has a fleet of about 100 planes, many of them 747s. In addition to a bread-and-butter FoMoCo parts distribution contract, Kalitta Air provides charter flights for Medical Flight Services, Air Ambulance Specialists, the Shriners' Children's Hospital and the United States Department of Defense, to name a few. It is not generally known that Kalitta Air keeps a 747 on standby to work with the military to return fallen service men and women to their homes.

Kalitta no longer races, but he is the CEO of Kalitta Motorsports in Ypsilanti, Michigan which sponsors four cars and drivers. His love of racing became a lifelong pursuit and a way of life.

***

Shirley Muldowney
Connie Katilla first met Shirley Muldowney in 1966 at Raceway Park in Illinois when she was racing a dragster with her husband as her mechanic. In 1972, Shirley divorced Jack Muldowney when she wanted to advance to top fuel funny cars, and he refused to live the life of a Gypsy to compete on the NHRA circuit. Doubtless, there were other personal issues as Shirley moved in with Kalitta in 1972. Kalitta was The Bounty Hunter and Muldowney became The Huntress. Connie soon tagged Shirley with the nickname "Cha-Cha" which she never liked, but it became part of her NHRA branding.

After her split from Kalitta, Shirley went on to make a name for herself in this macho male sport. At first, she had trouble attracting sponsors and finding a crew that would work with a woman. But when Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney showed up at the track with her hot pink car, cowboy boots, and crash helmet, she started filling the grandstands. Even her pit crew wore hot pink team shirts.

Muldowney defied traditional gender stereotypes head-on and challenged sexism in the racing culture like Billie Jean King had for tennis in 1973's Battle of the Sexes against Bobby Riggs. Both ladies proved women can compete in a man's world.

Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to receive a NHRA license to drive top fuel dragsters. She was the first person--man or woman--to win three NHRA national events in a row. In 1980, Shirley won the World Finals by beating her nemesis Connie Kalitta, and in 1982, she won an unprecedented third NHRA Top Fuel Championship.

Muldowney's achievements were not lost on Hollywood. She got the big screen treatment in 1983's Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia as Muldowney and Beau Bridges as Connie Kalitta. Muldowney has said the film didn't capture her real life very well but was good for the sport.

On the heels of her celebrity, Muldowney was faced with her biggest challenge. In June of 1984, her dragster crashed at over 250 mph at Sanair Speedway near Montreal, Canada. A front tire shredded and got twisted up in a wheel causing the car to lose control for 600 feet before crashing. Shirley was left with broken legs, crushed hands, a shattered pelvis, and a severed thumb. Determined to race again, she undertook two years of grueling physical therapy and recovery. Her first race back was against "Big Daddy" Don Garlits--a personal friend of hers. She lost.

Because of trouble attracting sponsors, Shirley retired from racing in 2003. During her career, she won eighteen NHRA National events and was ranked 5th on NHRA's 2001 list of its Top 50 Drivers earning her the title of "First Lady of Drag Racing." Her memoir Shirley Muldowney: Tales from the Track was released in 2005 depicting her drag racing life. The same year, Muldowney was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

***
CKLW radio commercial for the Detroit Dragway from 1966: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbrdImfvFmQ

1982 U.S. Nationals Championship drag race between Kalitta and Muldowney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-Q8f6bsfI0  

Muldowney on the Johnny Carson Show in 1986 after her 1984 catastrophic car crash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FeaqiczHzI

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ypsilanti Village Growing Pains



Ypsilanti's Water Tower with cuppola before it was removed for safety reasons.

Once the Village of Ypsilanti was chartered by the Michigan Legislature in 1832, growth was steady. But the cholera epidemic of 1836 in Detroit forced Ypsilanti residents to take drastic measures prohibiting travelers from entering their town. Local militiamen were stationed at Bowen’s Tavern three miles east of the village on Chicago Road.

When a stagecoach from Detroit was stopped and barred from entering the village, the teamster attempted to run the blockade when a militiaman shot the lead horse in the head. The horse fell but was only stunned. The lead ball glanced off his skull. The horse was helped to its feet and the angry driver stubbornly pressed forward. The news of the stagecoach incident traveled quickly filling passengers with apprehension. A detour around the village was quickly established and mail service was interrupted. Ypsilanti remained cholera-free, but outsiders were left with the lasting impression that the village was unfriendly and dangerous.

Michigan Central Depot
Michigan Central train service was inaugurated on February 2, 1838. Ypsilanti was connected to the rest of the state and became the economic hub for the area’s growing agricultural concerns. The coming of the railroad divided Ypsilanti into two distinct commercial districts. The West Side of the river was  dominated by downtown merchants on the Chicago road. The East Side had the train station and developed Depot Town catering to train passengers and light manufacturing.

The State Legislature chartered Michigan State Normal College in 1849 to be the first teacher training institution west of the Alleghenies. Its mission was to “normalize” public school instruction and set educational standards throughout the state. The college was constructed on Ypsilanti’s high ground on the West Side and eventually became Eastern Michigan University.

Ypsi-Ann Trolley
Electricity began powering the city in 1887, and a new water-pumping station made possible Ypsilanti’s most prominent feature, the Water Tower, built across from the Normal College. In 1890, the popular Ypsi-Ann steam-driven trolley made travel between the two college towns possible. The Normal College was attended mainly by young women, and the University of Michigan was attended mainly by young men. It was said that the weekends brought a rough parity between the genders. Because the steam-driven trolley cars were loud and scared the horses, the trolley line was soon electrified. In 1898, the Ypsi-Ann connected to Detroit’s Interurban to the east and Saline and Jackson to the west.

Meanwhile, the East Side developed dams and river races along the Huron to power a wool carding factory, a flour mill, grist mills, an underwear factory, a cabinetry shop, and a carriage manufacturer. With the discovery of mineral springs on the East Side in 1882, several sanitariums were established said to cure cancer, rheumatism, skin ailments, and even "women's trouble." Ypsilanti shipped mineral soap, distilled salts, and carbonated mineral water nationwide.

Specializing in long underwear with a flap in the back.

The First National Bank of Ypsilanti was founded in 1864 by Daniel L. Quirk, Cornelius Cornwell, and Asa Dow. These were boom times for Ypsilanti. Many of the city’s most successful entrepreneurs built their mansions along the western bluff of the Huron River looking down at what was once Godfroy’s on the Pottawatomie and a gathering place for Native Americans. The Daniel L. Quirk mansion would eventually become the Ypsilanti City Hall; the Asa Dow mansion would become the Ypsilanti Historical Society, and the John and Mary Ann Starkweather mansion would become the Ladies Library Association.


Higland Cemetery Memorial
When the winds of war stirred, the young men of Washtenaw County answered their country’s call. Troops assembled on the Depot Town train platform before shipping out to the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and World War I. After World War I, a period of economic optimism spread throughout much of America, but by the end of the decade, the bottom fell out of the economy and Ypsilanti with the rest of the country was thrust into the Great Depression.

The Ypsilanti community knew hardship and uncertainty before. Their first major disaster happened on March 28, 1851, a great fire destroyed much of downtown. The wooden buildings were soon rebuilt in brick. Ypsilanti’s second disaster occurred April 12, 1893, when a cyclone tore through town. Power lines went down, trees were uprooted, and homes were carried away with their belongings. The community came together and rebuilt once again. Ypsilanti was always able to rally and rise above its afflictions.

Heavy security during Torch Murder trial.
But train stations during the Depression were magnets for the displaced and the shiftless. The decade of the 1930s were lean and desperate times for many. In 1931, three unemployed vagrants were out drinking one night searching for someone to rob. They came upon four Ypsilanti teens "parking" south of Ford Lake near Tuttle Hill. The teens were terrorized before being shot to death; then, their bodies were placed in the car, moved to another location, and doused with gasoline. When the bodies were found, they were unrecognizable.  The three murderers were quickly captured, convicted, and sent to Jackson prison under heavy guard to prevent a lynching.

As disturbing as the Torch Murders were, the isolated murder of a seven-year-old boy found frozen under the Frog Island footbridge in 1935 gripped the conscience of Ypsilanti residents like nothing had before. Every parent warned their children to avoid Depot Town, especially since the murderer of Richard Streicher, Jr. was still at large.