Sunday, January 26, 2020

Samuel Zug - The Man Behind the Island

Samuel Zug
At the end of June 2013, I was asked by Canadian filmmaker Mark Dal Bianco to write a brief biography of Samuel Zug, the man whom Zug Island is named after. 

The filmmaker is producing a documentary on the environmental impact of the island on the surrounding areas of Detroit and Windsor.

Mr. Zug is thought by some people to have been an industrialist, but that couldn't be further from the truth. He was a devout Presbyterian who took an interest in politics and human rights.

In 1836 at the tender age of twenty-years-old, Samuel Zug came to Detroit, Michigan from Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Using money he saved as a bookkeeper in the Pittsburgh area, he went into the furniture making business with Marcus Stevenson, a Detroit investor.  

The prospect of endless stands of pine, oak and maple trees as raw material, and convenient access to Eastern markets by way of the Detroit River for their finished products made Detroit an ideal place for a young man to make his fortune. 

But in 1859 after twenty-three years in the furniture business, his partnership with Stevenson was dissolved leaving Samuel Zug a wealthy man to pursue real estate and political ambitions.

In 1859 (or 1876 depending on which source you choose), Samuel Zug purchased 325 acres of land along the Detroit River from Michigan's second Territorial governor, General Lewis B. Cass. Over 250 acres of the parcel was marshland with a sulfur spring bubbling up 1,200 barrels of mineral water a day.

The marshy peninsula of land was a part of Ecorse Township before it became the city of River Rouge. In unrecorded time, the land was rumored to be an ancient burial site for a number of native American tribes known to inhabit the area.

Samuel Zug and his wife Anna built a home on the island, but after ten years they decided that the marshland and natural sulfur spring on the site proved too much for them to endure. The Zugs surrendered the land to the red fox, water fowl, muskrats, and mosquitoes. The croaking frogs and singing insects were left to serenade the damp night air because the island was virtually uninhabitable.

In 1888, Samuel Zug authorized the River Rouge River Improvement Company to cut a small canal at the south end of his land. Known by locals as Mud Run, it was dredged out sixty feet wide and eight feet deep. 

Short Cut Canal at bottom of map was Mud Run.

The Zug family peninsula became a man-made island overnight separating it from the north end of Ecorse Township. The channel improved the flow of the Rouge River into the Detroit River, but it did little to circulate water around the newly formed island, leaving a slow-moving backwater.

On December 26, 1889, Samuel Zug died leaving his holdings to his wife, Anne, who died on June 10th,1891. It has been reported wrongly that Mr. Zug died in 1896. My source for the correct date of Zug's death comes from his tombstone in Detroit's Elmwood Cemetery.

The Zug heirs sold the island for $300,000 to George Brady and Charles Noble, who wanted to use the site for an industrial dumping ground. The island was diked with interlocking steel panels and back-filled with construction rubble and dredging waste to raise the ground above the water table and reclaim the land from its natural state.

Heavy industry was about to move onto the island but Mr. Zug never lived to see it. The island's namesake was "Waiting for the Coming of Our Lord" as the inscription on his grave marker proclaims.

In addition to being a bookkeeper and the owner of a successful furniture manufacturing company, Samuel Zug also is credited with being one of the founding members of the Republican Party, which was considered to be the progressive party of the day. Their first official meeting took place on July 6, 1854, in Jackson, Michigan.

The Republicans were an abolitionist party that came to national attention when they won 33% of the presidential vote from the Democrats and the Whigs in 1856. Four years later in 1860, they broke through the two-party system and elected Abraham Lincoln to the White House.

Samuel Zug was an anti-slavery advocate long before Lincoln was elected and The Civil War began. He bought and set aside a parcel of land for refugee slaves in the city of Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada, a destination of the Underground Railroad. What other support he gave to the Abolitionist Movement is shrouded in the dim history of time and whispers of the unrecorded past.

At the time of his death, Samuel Zug was unaware of the mighty industrial complex his soggy marshland would become. He would never know the history Zug Island would make possible or the long-term environmental impact the steel industry would have on the area and its people.

In Detroit's Elmwood Cemetery

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Fornology Blog 2020--Closing in on a Million Hits

After almost ten years of blogging, my site will register a million hits this year. Writing blog posts has become my favorite type of writing because of the instant gratification and immediacy of reader response. What also appeals to me is a post can be endlessly revised to correct any content or grammar errors, which is not the case with published longer works where your words are imprisoned on the page.

When I began to blog at the urging of my first publicist in 2011, I was less than thrilled. I knew nothing of blogging, so I did what any self-respecting Baby Boomer would do, I bought a hard copy of Blogging for Dummies. There is no shortage of books about monetizing your blog, but I needed advice on how to build a blog.

Once I understood the nature of the beast, I began to recognize the value of building an audience by drawing readers to my site. Blogging has become my primary marketing vehicle because of its long reach and its cost--blogging is essentially free. All of my posts are offered for free, but my longer works can be purchased in my blog's sidebar. I prefer the soft rather than the hard sell.

At first, my post topics were random, but soon I focused on topics related to my longer works creating interest in my books' subjects. Not only did my blog become a research tool, it helped me develop my author's voice and writing style, all the while growing my audience.

My fornology blog provides free, nonfiction content. What is remarkable to me is that I've written 445 posts over the last nine years. My present goal is to reach 500 posts before I pull the plug and call it a career. Help me reach one-million hits by reading some of my posts you haven't seen before Check out the archive index on my blogs left sidebar. Thanks!

Top Ten Fornology Posts 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Purple Gangster Marries Shiksa

Edward Kennedy Jr. and Joseph Burnstein.
Most Purple Gang members made their mothers proud by marrying Jewish women and following the precepts of their Hebrew faith--on the surface anyway. One notable exception was twenty-eight-year-old Joseph Burnstein who married a nineteen-year-old Catholic show girl from Kenosha, Wisconsin named Marguerite Ball.

After graduating from dance school, Marguerite began her show business career in vaudeville with the Paul Ash Revue performing live musical skits on-stage in Chicago movie houses before the evening's silent film was shown. These small productions were broadcast over local radio from 7:15 pm to 8:00 pm.

Marguerite (Ball) Burnstein
Marguerite performed in short musical pieces named "May Time Jazz Carnival," "Oh, Teacher," "Shanghai Dreams," and "Paul's Hot Ashes." She was talented enough to capture the notice of George White, a show business impresario of variety shows called the George White Scandals--along the line of the more famous and elegant Ziegfeld Follies. Marguerite performed on Broadway in "Manhattan Mary" and "Helen, In the Scandals" as an uncredited cast member.

The details of Joe and Marguerite's courtship are unknown, but it can be safely said that theirs was a whirlwind romance culminating in marriage on March 23, 1929 in Detroit. Their newspaper wedding notice described Joe as the vice-president of a Detroit motor company--a lie designed for the benefit of the Ball family who surely had reservations about Marguerite's hasty Justice of the Peace marriage to a man they knew little about. The newlyweds moved into a custom Tudor-style home said to be valued at $100,000 in the exclusive Detroit neighborhood of Palmer Woods.

Joe was the most business-minded of the Burnstein brothers and owned a number of legitimate businesses used to launder gang money and provide fronts for other gang activities. He owned an auto parts business, a men's fine clothing store, a three-chair barber shop (on the site of the current Fox Theater), and oil wells in Mt. Pleasant and Clare, Michigan. Outwardly, Joe had all the trappings of a prosperous and legitimate businessman--including a trophy wife.

Joseph Burnstein's mansion--notice the B emblem on the awnings.
A scant year passed before Marguerite gave birth to a healthy daughter. Her married life with Joe seemed idyllic until fate reared its ugly head. One week after Marguerite gave birth to their child, Joe was fighting for his life in the same hospital. One of his business partners--while on an opium binge--shot Joe in the midriff hitting his spleen.

Joe almost bled out, but Purple Gang members lined up at Detroit Receiving Hospital donating blood to help save his life. True to the gangster code, Joe refused to testify against his assailant Harry Kirschenbaum. They were friends and Joe said all he remembered was bumping his head and passing out. Kirschenbaum was acquitted in Detroit Recorder's Court but was convicted later on a federal narcotics charge for possession of opium.

When Joe recovered sufficiently from his stomach wound and returned home from the hospital, Marguerite gave him an ultimatum, "Either quit the gang or say goodbye to me and your daughter."

Leaving the day-to-day gang life behind, Joe cast his eyes west and eventually settled in El Dorado, California where he became a consultant to Reno and West Coast gambling concerns. After his brother Ray was convicted of first-degree murder and sent to Marquette Prison for life, youngest brother Isadore moved to California also, leaving oldest brother Abe to run the gang's gambling rackets.

Joe and Marguerite remained married for fifty-five years until he died of heart failure at the age of eighty-four on February 28, 1984. Marguerite died on January 9, 1992 in El Dorado, California at the age of eighty-one. Of the four Burnstein brothers, Joe was the only one with a lasting marriage and two daughters to show for it.

Mobsters' Women

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Mobsters' Women

The age of the flapper--1920s

Once World War I ended and the doughboys returned from Europe, young men and women were ready to shed the Victorian inhibitions of the past for the freedom of modernity. While the soldiers were off fighting the Germans, women won their voting rights and Temperance groups made national Prohibition the law of the land. 

The alchemy of these new political realities dramatically impacted society setting the stage for the Roaring Twenties and the age of the flapper. Young women shed their corsets, raised their hemlines, lowered their waistlines, bobbed their hair, and put on shoes with heels. They smoked, they swore, they drank, and they danced to the latest syncopated rhythms at speakeasies while rubbing elbows with underworld figures and wealthy local businessmen. 

Many young women were attracted to the lavish lifestyle of underworld figures who dressed in fine clothes and drove flashy automobiles. As long as the money and perks rolled in, most gangster wives and girlfriends knew better than to question the source of their good fortune--they were smart enough to play dumb.

But being involved with a gangster was a risky proposition for women. Gangsters of the Roaring Twenties tended to die young leaving their wives and girlfriends bereaved and destitute. Some young women hooked up with other gangsters, some returned home to their families, some returned to the chorus line from whence they came, and some went to work in a variety of low-paying jobs.

Al and Mae Coughlin Capone
Planning for the future was not a priority for people living in the moment. Life insurance and pension plans were not part of the gangster's long-term prospectus. When Al Capone died, his wife Mae was forced to vacate their Palm Island estate in Miami Beach, Florida. She went to work helping her son run a Miami restaurant called The Grotto, but when the venture failed, Mae lived modestly in Hollywood, Florida on the generosity of her brother-in-law Ralph Capone and the Chicago organization who paid her a small stipend understood to be hush money.

In Detroit, Michigan, Purple Gang enforcers Abe Axler and Eddie Fletcher died as they lived--at the wrong end of a gun. Both men when released from federal prison had to pay $5,000 in fines. After Axler and Fletcher were released, they were broke. Shortly after that, they were found murdered in the back seat of car. Abe had $18.60 in his pockets and Eddie had $0.60. The Axler family in New York paid to ship Abe's body home for burial. Eddie Fletcher's body was also returned to New York, but his family had long-since turned their back on Eddie. His burial expenses were paid by First Brodyer Benevolent Association because of his indigence.

Neither of their widows had a financial safety net, so they played the marriage sweepstakes. Evelyn Axler remarried twice--both times to alcoholics. She died at the age of thirty-eight from second and third degree burns over her entire body. The cause of death was entered as accidental by the Wayne County Coroner though the details of her death are lost to history. Anna Fletcher fared much better. She remarried a man not in the rackets and drifted into obscurity leaving the mob life behind.

Fred "Killer" Burke after pleading guilty to murder.
As a rule, most mobster wives and girlfriends were left unprovided for, but there were exceptions. Fred "Killer" Burke--gunman responsible for three of the most notorious gangland killings of the Prohibition period--had as many wives and girlfriends as he had aliases. His final marriage was to twenty-year-old Bonnie Gwendoline Porter when Burke was thirty-seven.

Bonnie Burke
Less than a year after their marriage in 1930, Burke was arrested for the murder of a St. Joseph, Michigan patrolman who was trying to apprehend him for a minor traffic accident. When Bonnie Burke was brought in for questioning, she said she knew nothing about her husband's criminal past and believed he sold oil well leases. "My husband spent a lot of time on the road," she told police. In reality, Burke held up banks and committed other crimes in surrounding counties and states.

Charged with second-degree murder, Fred Burke pleaded guilty knowing there was a contract put out on him for double-crossing the Purple Gang. He was sentenced to life at Marquette Prison in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where he died of heart failure in 1940. Despite not visiting Burke in the nine years he spent behind bars, Bonnie was left with a fortune in negotiable United States Treasury 
Bonds leaving her a very rich woman.

Chester and Anna LaMare
Another exception to the plight of most mob wives was Anna LaMare, the wife of Cesare "Big Chet" LaMare--Hamtramck, Michigan mob boss and Wyandotte, Michigan Mafia don. In a move to become capo regime ("boss of bosses"), LaMare attempted to gather Detroit's Mafia leaders together in one place to assassinate them in one fell swoop. The plan unravelled and two low-ranking Eastside Mafia members were shot to death igniting a year-long Mafia gang war between Eastside and Westside Mafia factions--only one would survive. LaMare knew his days were numbered. A month before he was assassinated by turncoat members of his own gang, LaMare discussed his estate and other holdings with Anna.

While Anna was out of the house on February 6, 1931, from 9:00 pm until near midnight, two gunmen--Joe Amico and Elmer Macklin--shot Big Chet. Anna returned home and found her husband in a bleeding heap on the kitchen floor. She called the Wyandotte Police screaming into the phone at them. After they arrived, Anna calmed down and was questioned claiming she was out of the house for only an hour or so. When she left the house, Chet was by himself she told investigators. Because of the coagulation of LaMare's blood and the level of rigor mortis in his body, the coroner knew Anna was lying. LaMare had been dead for over two hours.

Chester LaMare's silver-clad casket being carried out of his Wyandotte home.
Though Anna was suspected by police investigators as being complicit in some way, she was never charged and held only briefly before being released to arrange for her husband's funeral. Two of LaMare's foot soldiers were charged with Big Chet's murder while Anna walked away scott-free with an estate valued at $500,000--including money in the bank, extensive real estate holdings, and a Ford Motor Company dealership.

Most women involved with underworld figures were married to woe, and few profited from their association with a gangster. But all of them carried the weight of memory and the stigma of being a gangster's woman to their graves.

Purple Gangster Marries Shiksa