Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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.

Five years ago, 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 Richard Streicher Jr., who deserved better than he got. 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.

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

Richard Streicher Jr. paperback and ebook reduced in price. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Mackinac Bridge--Michigan's Most Valuable Asset

If people needed to cross the four mile Straits of Mackinac between Michigan's Lower and Upper Peninsulas before 1957, they went either by boat or chartered plane. In 1923, the state legislature instituted ferry boat services for cars and trucks. The phenomenal popularity of the automobile outpaced the capacity of the ferry boats to handle the vacation traffic during the summer and the deer hunting season during the winter. It wasn't unusal for cars to line up for five to eight miles out of Mackinaw City waiting to board a ferry for the nine-mile, forty-five minute crossing to the St. Ignace docks.

The Mackinaw Bridge Citizen's Committee was formed during the 1920s to determine the feasibility of building a bridge with a 4,600 foot span and 150 feet above the water, so it wouldn't obstruct commercial freighter traffic between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Three world famous bridge engineers were hired to determine if such a long span was viable from a mechanical standpoint. All of these experts had design experience with nearly every big bridge project in the world. Once they established that a bridge could be built on the site, the next requirement of the committee was securing adequate funding estimated to be $50,000,000.

No business connection to G. Mennen Williams

The bridge's highest profile supporter was G. Mennen Williams--Michigan's Democrat governor. Williams' mother was the daughter of Gerhard Heinrich Mennen--founder of the Mennen brand of men's personal care products. Williams' Mug Shaving Soap--no relation--was a well-known men's product. Some political wag conflated the two and dubbed Governor Williams "Soapy." The Mackinaw Bridge project soon became known among Michigan Republicans as "Soapy's Folly." Rather than chaff at the nickname, Williams embraced it and used it in his campaign literature. Governor Williams believed the bridge would open up a new trade route and provide opportunities to bolster Michigan's financially distressed Upper Peninsula.

Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams in his signature green bow tie.

By 1953, costs rose from the original $75,000,000 estimate to a proposed $90,000,000. The chairman of the Mackinac Bridge Authority reported that New York City investment firm B.J. Ingen, would sell bonds to finance construction. The financing would be handled entirely with private capital, without state funds involved with the project.

But bonds would only be issued on one condition. The Michigan legislature needed to approve $400,000 anually in highway funds for maintainance of the bridge. The revenue measure was a deal breaker until supporters pointed out that Michigan subsidized the straits ferry fleet to the tune of $650,000 annually. $400,000 for bridge maintainance was a bargain by comparison and the measure passed overwhelmingly.

Because of a soft bond market, sales of bridge bonds were postponed for two months. Mackinac Bridge Authority Chairman Prentiss M. Brown told the press "we regret this decision because we lose the entire construction season." The completion date was postponed one year to November 1, 1957, at which time existing ferry service would be retired.

Once all the contracts were signed, the ground-breaking ceremonies were scheduled for May 7, 1954 in Mackinaw City and repeated on May 8th in St. Ignace. The Mackinaw City celebration began with a fly-over by six F-86 jet fighters. A three-mile long gala parade lead by the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps of Detroit was followed by 75 floats and 40 marching bands and drill teams. They converged at Michilimackinac Park for speeches by bridge authorities and state politicians. During the ground breaking ceremony, the Bresser Chorus of Alpena sang the Star Spangled Banner. Later that evening, a fireworks display lit up the sky.

Construction began on May 7, 1954. The Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corporation was awarded the contract to build the substructure of the bridge, while the American Bridge Division of United States Steel Corporation was contracted to build the bridge's superstructure. U.S. Steel produced and fabricated all the steel used in the bridge's construction which took four years to complete.

On June 6, 1956, the Consumer Power Company began laying four underwater electrical lines across the straits to provide the first electrical power linking the lower and upper peninsulas. A tug-powered barge carrying four reels of cable began work on a clear, calm day and laid the cables beside Michigan Bell and Western Union telephone lines already in place.

The day before the inaugural opening on November 1, 1957, the Traverse City Record-Eagle ran an editorial lauding the new bridge: "Tomorrow will mark the beginning of a new era for Michigan history.... This bridge will make the Upper Peninsula an actual part of Michigan instead of a poor relation. The Mackinac Bridge will be a firm tie between the two peninsulas where only a loose connection existed previously. The opening of this bridge will be one of the most important days in Michigan history."

The original toll was a flat rate of $3.25 per car; the current toll is $2.00 per axle or $4.00 per car. Motor Homes and commercial vehicles are charged $5.00 per axle. The last of the Mackinac Bridge bonds was retired July 1, 1986, and the current fare revenues are used to operate and maintain the bridge.

The tradition of the Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day began in 1958 with Governor Williams and state dignitaries leading the pack, but pedestrian traffic is only allowed on that day. Bicycles are not allowed on the bridge either. For a $5.00 fee, someone from the Bridge Authority will take cyclists and their bikes across the bridge.

Some people have a fear of crossing bridges (gephyrophobia). The Authority has a Driver's Assistance Program that can be scheduled in advance or arranged at the toll booth. More than a thousand people a year would rather have someone drive them and their vehicle across the Straits.

Despite the remoteness of the bridge, the traffic flow averages 4.5 million vehicle crossings per year or 12,000 per day. After sixty-three years of hard use and winter's abuse, the Mighty Mac remains Michigan's most valuable and photographed asset.

Detroit Salt Mine