Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Delray Lives on in Florida

Detroit's Village of Delray is all but a memory today, but its namesake Delray Beach is going strong on the east coast of Florida. My wife and I had the pleasure of attending a wedding there just before Christmas. Beyond its name, there is little if any resemblance.

The original Delray area was named Belgrade but known locally as Little Hungary. It was platted (subdivided) in 1836 for small businesses along West Jefferson Avenue and residental streets built off of Jefferson Avenue. The village was renamed "Del Rey" on October 4, 1851, from a suggestion by a Mexican-American War veteran, Augustus D. Burdeno, who remembered the name from a town he encountered while serving in Mexico. The Spanish name was Americanized to "Delray" when the village received its own United States post office on February 8, 1870.

Heavy industry moved into the area along the Detroit River in the late 1890s. The Village of Delray was incorporated in 1897 and annexed into the city of Detroit in 1906. The population peaked at 24,000 in 1930, dominated by Hungarian and Eastern European immigrants. A Wayne County wastewater treatment plant opened in 1940 leading to the destruction of 600 homes.

The village's population dropped by over 4,000 after World War II, due to the G.I. Bill which provided zero-down payment mortgages for veterans. Large numbers of residents moved into the growing Downriver communities of Wyandotte, Lincoln Park, Allen Park, and Taylor. In the late 1950s, the construction of Interstate 75 wiped out even more homes. Delray's master plan was rezoned as exclusively industrial in the late 1960s. The writing was on the wall: Delray's days were numbered.

The final blow to the village was in 2013 when Delray was designated the location for the Gordie Howe International Bridge, resulting in large-scale demolition of many more homes. The bridge project will ultimately revitalize the area with jobs and other commercial businesses on both sides of the Detroit River. The changing times are always toughest on those people displaced by progress or thwarted by unalterable fate.


The city of Delray Beach is located on the eastern shore of Florida between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Despite a rocky beginning, it has become a gentrified, resort town on the Atlantic Ocean with a thriving artist colony. The earliest known inhabitants of the area were Joega and Tequesta Native Americans but little is known about them. In the 1840s, an American military map notes that Seminole Indians had an encampment in the area.

While central Florida was still a tropical wilderness area, the United States Life Saving Service built the Orange Grove House of Refuge in 1876 to rescue and shelter ship-wrecked sailors. There were ten House of Refuges built along the Florida coastline, most on the Atlantic Ocean. The stations were of similar design. The main floor had five rooms where the station master lived with his family. The second story attic was outfitted with twenty cots and bedding for sailors who washed up on shore alive.

Each station had a brick cistern to collect rainwater from the roof for fresh drinking water. A fully-equipped station was stocked with enough dried and salted provisions to feed twenty men for ten days. Each station provided some basic medicine and first aid supplies, and there were wooden boxes filled with books to help sailors pass the time until they could be rescued.

In 1895, William S. Linton, a Republican Congressman from Saginaw, Michigan, and his friend David Swinton, bought a large tract of land west of the Orange Grove House of Refuge as an investment opportunity. They hoped it would become a prosperous farming community. Michigan Representive Linton named the settlement after himself. He and his partner recruited eight settlers and their families from Michigan to clear the land and grow crops.

A year later in 1896, Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railroad to Miami through Linton and established a train station there. Overextended on their land purchase, Linton and Swinton sold some of their holdings to Major Nathan Smith Boynton to raise money. Two years later, the settlement was struck by a hard freeze, the crops failed, and Linton and Swinton defaulted on the land.

Creditors moved to collect money from the settlers. Some moved on while others fought to hang onto their land. In 1898, W.W. Blackmer, one of the original settlers, suggested that the settlement's name be changed to his Michigan hometown Delray because of the bad publicity Linton's default created. In 1901, the name was changed. The following year, Delray was chartered as an incorporated town.

A Florida land rush in the 1920s brought prosperity to Delray. Tourism and real estate speculation became the economic anchors for the area. Water and sewer lines were installed, and the streets and sidewalks were paved. In 1927, Delray and Delray Beach merged to become the city of Delray Beach. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Delray Beach became a seasonal artist and writers' colony and gained fame as a resort town.

By the 2000s, Delray Beach underwent large-scale renovation and gentification along Atlantic Avenue, becoming known for its beachfront, nightlife, dining, shopping, art galleries, and luxury hotels. Delray Beach began hosting international tennis events in 2004 like the Davis Cup and the 2005 Federation Cup, which attracted tennis athletes like Serena and Venus Williams, to make their homes in the area.

Delray Beach is a lovely coastal area in fair weather, but beyond the horizon line in the Southern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, hurricanes are born. Everyplace has its hazards. Best to have an evacuation plan, fresh water, and a bugout bag ready to go.

Detroit's Ghost Town Delray and O-So Memories

Saturday, November 26, 2022

One-Million and a Quarter Fornology Pageviews and Counting

Sue and I at Detroit Bookfest 2022. Come join us next July.

After a decade of writing my Fornology blog, I'm going to release my last anthology of my best posts called Michigan Time Capsule. It is a sequel to my Detroit Time Capsule that I released last year. Together, both volumes contain 130 of my 517 posts [25% of my best work]. Michigan Time Capsule will go to press in January 2023 and be available on my Amazon author site early this spring.

My original intention when I retired in 2009 was to write a semi-autobiographical memoir which culminated in Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel. In 2011, my publicist recommended that I start a blog. I was not enthusiastic, but she explained how blogging was a way to build an audience. Once I got the hang of it, I found I enjoyed writing the posts because of the instant gratification and interaction with my readers. 

By the time Terror In Ypsilanti was ready, I had people waiting to buy it and sold over 500 pre-release copies. That is a respectable amount for an independent title. But ten years and six books later, I am ready to ease up on the workload and pursue other interests. 

Anyone wanting to purchase any of my titles can click on my book covers in the left and right sidebars of this post, or you can check my Author Site where all of my books are listed together. Each title comes in a quality, paperback edition and all ebook formats. Terror In Ypsilanti and The Elusive Purple Gang also come in audio editions.

Thanks to all of my loyal readers for helping make my retirement productive and meaningful and to all the friends I have made along the way.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Eddie Wingate: Black Detroit's Big Daddy

Eddie Wingate

One of the economic Titans in Detroit's African American community of the 1950s through the late 1970s was Eddie Wingate. Wingate was born in Moultrie, Georgia, on February 13, 1919, the oldest of six boys. Young Eddie quit school in his adolescence to work on a nearby farm to help support his family on two dollars a day. During the Great Depression, his $10-$12 weekly earnings went a long way, but he had ambition to do better.

Eddie kept hearing the old folks talk about the economic promised land of Detroit where Blacks were making good money working in the auto plants and steel mills. In the late 1930s, Wingate scraped together all the funds he could and drove to Detroit in his rundown Model T to seek his fortune. 

At the age of nineteen, Wingate got a job with the Ford Motor Company. It is in the Ford plant that he became acquainted with the illegal numbers racket, called the Policy Racket by government prosecutors. He soon became involved with the business end of the operation.

After almost a decade of working on the assembly line and saving his money, Wingate quit his factory job and became the silent, majority owner of a restaurant named The 20 Grand Supper Club. He was also the sole owner of The 20 Grand Hotel next door where he ran his numbers empire and hosted Detroit's African American cafe society.

By 1961, Eddie Wingate was wealthy enough to pursue his passion for music. Along with his inamorata Joanne Jackson Bratton, they founded Golden World Records (GWR) that made waves in Detroit's pop music scene. Together, they established GWR, Ric-Tic Records, Wingate Records, and J&W Records, Inc. They built their own state of the art studio using the best musical equipment money could buy.

Wingate and Bratton developed their talent roster and used The Driftwood Lounge in the 20 Grand Supper Club, owned on paper by Bill Kabbus and Marty Eisner, as a performance venue for Edwin Starr, The Parliaments, the Manhattans, Laura Lee, and The Funkadelics. The popular venue was a good place to showcase their talent and build an audience to help sell records. 

Wingate's personal friend Berry Gordy also used the Driftwood Lounge to break in his growing list of future Motown headliners like The Supremes, Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and The Miracles to gain experience before sending them out on the "chitlin circuit" to hone their performance skills.

In 1968, Wingate and Bratton sold their record labels, their studio and production facilities, and their artists' contracts to Berry Gordy for one million dollars. Herion and cocaine were flooding the Black community and Wingate's adopted son became a junkie. Disgusted, Wingate turned his back on the hustlers in the music industry. The record business became more trouble than it was worth to him.

The 20 Grand Hotel at 2100 W. Warren Road next to the Supper Club  was where Wingate ran his numbers empire from rooms called "The Hole." A Michigan State Police informant testified to a federal grand jury that Wingate's numbers operation included a professional sports book which took bets on football and baseball games ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 over the phone from all over the country . The undercover surveillance occured from June to November of 1976 and relied heavily on wiretapping transcripts.

Early in 1977, the FBI arrested the top operators of the massive inner city bookmaking and numbers running operation. Along with Eddie Wingate, other operators Clarence Williams, John White, Walter Simmons, and Burrell "Junior" Pace were indicted. The men pleaded nolo contendere and paid heavy fines but were never convicted.

The federal government was more interested in the organization's kingpins. In March 1977, a federal grand jury brought indictments against mafioso brothers Anthony and Vito Giacalone for tax evasion. Wingate sold his business interests and left Detroit for Florida. The weather was better there, as were his chances for survival. He left his family operation in the capable hands of his younger brothers.

As a side note, playing the numbers today survives in all fifty states as government run and controlled lotteries used as revenue producing vehicles. Government knew a good thing when it saw it. The odds of winning contemporary govenment lotto games are many thousands or millions of times higher than the classic street game which used only three numbers chosen from 000 to 999, rather than five or six numbers including double digits. It is ironic how laws and attitudes change. What people once went to jail for is now advertised on television and in every convienence and liquor store in the nation.

Modern Michigan Lotto Slip

What is lesser known about Wingate outside of Detroit's Black community is that he and other numbers associates helped many Detroiters buy their first homes despite real estate covenants enshrining racial segregation. Entire White neighborhoods were redlined and off-limits to Blacks who could otherwise afford a conventional mortgage. They were routinely denied mainstream bank loans in desirable Detroit neighborhoods. 

Wingate recognized opportunity when he saw it, so he went into the residential real estate business, financed by his gambling profits which were considerable. Authorities would say that he and his associates were loansharking and laundering money, but their clients had steady jobs and most could pay off their monthly mortgage payments on time.

Because of men like Eddie Wingate, Blacks in Detroit had a higher percentage of home ownership in the 1950s and 1960s than any other urban center in the country. To many Detroit residents, Eddie Wingate became a local folk hero despite his underworld activities and connections.

Wingate was sole owner of several commercial buildings which were essentially number and money drops where people from the community were employed as money counters and accountants to keep his game running smoothly. It has been estimated that every dollar spent on the numbers circulated as many as five times in the neighborhoods where the game was played. 

Wingate also mentored, influenced, and helped finance many Black entrepreneurs to get started in businesses providing employment and services to city residents. In many respects, Wingate was a rainmaker who brought prosperity to many people enduring hard times. 

Eddie Wingate died in Las Vegas on May 5, 2006, at the age of 86. His body was taken back to Detroit for a funeral service at New Bethel Baptist Church on Saturday, May 13th. Wingate's body was interred at Roseland Park Cemetery on Woodward Avenue in Berkley, Michigan.

Mr. Don Davis, chairman of the First Independence Bank in Detroit, wrote in Wingate's online funeral guestbook, "He was the go-to guy (in Detroit) to get anything done of any magnitude if you were Black. The guy held the community together."

Detroit's Numbers Racket 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Ann Arbor High Graduate Becomes Mr. Las Vegas

Moe Dalitz in Las Vegas publicity shot.

Morris "Moe" Dalitz was born in Boston but his family moved to Detroit where he grew up in the same Paradise Valley neighborhood with many of the original gang members who became known as the Purple Gang. In his adolescence, Moe's family moved to Ann Arbor where he completed his high school education.
During the Purple Gang's dominance controlling Detroit's illegal liquor business, Moe helped his father operate Campus Cleaners, a small chain of cleaners and dyers businesses in the Ann Arbor area. Moe used their fleet of laundry trucks to distribute Purple Gang liquor in Washtenaw County.
Moe became affiliated with the Little Jewish Navy--a faction of the Purples, that controlled smuggling along the Detroit Riverfront. When three of their top leaders were brutally assassinated by the Purples over an unpaid liquor debt, Moe quietly relocated to Cleveland where he continued his bootlegging operation and opened a chain of mob-protected casinos in Ohio and Kentucky. This became his life's work.

Unlike many of his associates who spent their money as soon as they made it buying fancy clothes and flashy cars, Moe maintained a low public profile by investing in legitimate businesses in Michigan. Dalitz held an executive position in the Michigan Industrial Laundry and the Colonial Laundry of Detroit where one of their illegal services was laundering gang money. Moe was also the president of Dalitz Realty Company in Wyandotte, Michigan, that specialized in selling industrial-zoned tracts of land in the Downriver area.

Dalitz served stateside in the United States Army during World War II. While still wearing the uniform, he loaned Detroit Steel $100K to save a collapsing merger with Cleveland's Reliance Steel which proved profitable. In the late 1940s, Dalitz and his underworld backers used Teamsters Union pension funds and began investing in Las Vegas. They lent front man Wilbur Clark--famous Las Vegas developer--the money to build the Desert Inn and then the Stardust casinos.

Dalitz with Bob Hope and Desi Arnez.
Moe Dalitz became a gaming pioneer and a legend of the Las Vegas Strip. His casinos were one-stop resorts catering to a new demographic changing the face of the Las Vegas Strip--working-class Midwesterners. The Desert Inn and Stardust catered to America's postwar, burgeoning middle class. Dalitz and his investors transformed Vegas from a gambling town to a vacation resort destination. Other organized crime figures took notice and began investing in Vegas opening the door to the Midwest mob's infiltration of Las Vegas, which led to skimming the casinos' gross profits "off the top."

Dalitz and other former mob figures discovered a way to sanitize their images. In the early 1950s, they formed the Paradise Development Company which built the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sunrise Hospital, the Boulevard Shopping Mall, a championship golf course, and several buildings at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Dalitz became a philanthropic civic leader earning him the name Mr. Las Vegas.

Dalitz at Kefauver crime hearing.
Dalitz came from the rough world of the Purple Gang in Detroit and the Mayfield Road Mob in Cleveland. Despite his great success as a businessman and philanthropist in Vegas, Dalitz was never able to completely shed his associations with organized crime figures. He was called to testify before the Estes Kefauver Crime Hearings on February 27, 1951.

Senator Kefauver asked Dalitz, "We have sworn testimony that you lent Detroit Steel $100,000 for $10,000 worth of company stock. You made $230,000 from that deal, didn't you?"

"Maybe more," was his unapologetic answer. "When I cast bread upon the waters, it comes back cake."

"Mr. Dalitz, didn't you make your original fortune as a rum runner?"

"I didn't inherit any money, that's for sure," Dalitz responded sidestepping the question.

Moe with only daughter Suzanne.
Fifteen years later on August 10, 1966, Dalitz was subpoenaed to testify before the Nevada Gaming Commission about the skim and payments to underworld figures. The government was closing in on organized crime organizations who controlled the casinos behind the scenes. The underworld was looking for a way out of the casino business.

Howard Hughes
Deliverance came in the guise of Texas billionaire and movie mogul Howard Hughes. Hughes moved from Boston and rented the penthouse of the Desert Inn to live in seclusion as an eccentric hermit. In 1972, Dalitz wanted Hughes out of the suites because the holiday season was approaching and "high rollers"--important to the Desert Inn's bottom line--had annual reservations for those rooms. Hughes didn't gamble. Dalitz had intense negotiations with Hughes over the eviction. 
Weary of Dalitz's threats, Hughes asked him how much he wanted for the Desert Inn. Dalitz said $13,250,000. Hughes had his chief of Nevada business operations Robert Maheu write out a check and told Dalitz "Get the Hell out of my casino." The penthouse floor became Hughe's private residence while the floor beneath his penthouse suite was used for his business operations. Hughes lived there for four more years until 1976 when he was rushed to Houston, Texas in a Learjet where he died on April 5, 1976. The autopsy listed the cause of Hughes' death as kidney failure.

The Desert Inn sale marked a seismic shift in the ownership of Las Vegas Strip casinos. Corporate interests and billionaire financiers like Kirk Kerkorian were the only entities with the kind of money to buy out the mob. Groups like Bally's, MGM, and Conde Nast ushered in the postmodern corporate era in Vegas that we are familiar with today.

La Costa Resort and Spa
Dalitz and his backers did not get out of the resort business entirely. They moved to San Diego County in 1962 and built the La Costa Resort and Hotel for $4,250,000, which catered to wealthy Americans and aging wise guys looking to escape winter weather back East. On August 31, 1989, Moe Dalitz died in Las Vegas of congestive heart failure and kidney disease at the age of eighty-nine.

Suzanne Dalitz, her Dad, and the Vegas Mob Museum

Thursday, September 22, 2022

World Traveler George F. Pierrot

Detroiters who grew up watching television in the 1950s and 1960s are no doubt familiar with George F. Pierrot, the gravelly-voiced, rotund host of the World Adventure Series on WXYZ (channel seven) which debuted in 1948 and George Pierrot Presents on WWJ-TV (channel four) which debuted in 1953. Pierrot holds the distinction as the only Detroit television personality to host shows on two local stations concurently. Pierrot instilled the desire to travel in many of his younger viewers.

From the point of view of the audience, Pierrot's job seemed easy enough. He introduced his guest travelers who showed and narrated their 16 mm films of the Western United States and exotic world location with speakers like Don Cooper, Stan Midgley, Dennis Glen Cooper, and Lowell Thomas. Behind the scenes, Pierrot booked the speakers, viewed and edited their films for content, and handled all negotiations and background arrangements.

"I demand a good reporting job," Pierrot said. "Sure, I want good films, but the speaker must have his facts straight. Viewers want indepth lectures and documentaries on what it is like in different countries." Like Pierrot himself, all of the commentators on his shows belonged to the Circumnavigator's Club whose headquarters was in New York City. Pierrot's shows were sponsored by Edward Brink of The Mutual of Omaha insurance company.

World traveler, author, and raconteur, Pierrot was born in Chicago on January 11, 1898, but his family moved to Seattle where his father practiced medicine and introduced his son to globetrotting. George studied journalism at the University of Washington before becoming the editor of the Washington Daily, but he left to write for a national magazine based in Detroit called The American Boy in the early 1920s. Pierrot became a regular luncheon and banquet speaker at service organizations and non-profits all over the city making him a much sought-after personality in Detroit.

When The American Boy went out of business in 1934, Pierrot pitched the idea of a weekly travelogue program to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) to boost the museum's poor attendance during the Great Depression. In those days, world traveling was a much bigger deal than it is now. Travel was impossible for the average person. Pierrot became the director of the World Adventure Series. For a yearly membership fee of one dollar or a charge of ten cents per lecture, the public could attend the Sunday afternoon travelogues. The programs were a big hit and set Pierrot up with his life's work. The DIA series ran in the Longfellow Auditorium until 1979.

With the start of World War II in Europe, Pierrot complained in October 1939 that "It's hard enough under normal circumstances to assemble world celebrities for lecture programs, but now the war is disrupting every travelogue series in the country. However, we do have the war to thank for our first feature of the season. A motion picture newsman returning from Poland will show two of his films this Sunday. 'Poland Under Fire' at 3:30 pm and the 'Defense of Poland' at 8:30 pm."

The DIA suspended The World Adventure Series in October of 1942 because of gas rationing and the curtailment of public transit on Sundays when the programs were held. Gas stations were closed and drivers were asked to stay home in an effort to save gas for the war effort. Forty-five percent of the program's audience came from the suburbs, so the museum shut the program down. The DIA resumed its Sunday World Adventure Series the following year when the ban on Sunday travel was eased. Rather than travelogues, documentary films from the battlefronts where Americans were fighting and dying dominated the lecture program until the war ended. These programs were well-attended. There was no commercial television in those days, so Detroiters flocked to the DIA to see the latest film footage from the front lines.

One-millionth USO serviceman winning a day on the town. Saturday, April 24,1943..
Pierrot did his part for the war effort by becoming the director of the Detroit Branch of the United Service Organization (USO) in 1942. He ran one of the most extensive and successful programs in the country. Activities for American soldiers and sailors included weekly dance parties and an entertainment unit that showed free motion pictures with special features like Movietone News and cartoons. Pierrot reported to the Defense Department that the Detroit USO entertained 40,000 G.I.s a month.

Three years after the war ended, Pierrot took his World Adventure Series to the new medium of television. For twenty-eight years from 1948 until 1976, he brought the world of travel to Detroiters in their living rooms. In 1979, the DIA's World Adventure Series went dark after forty-two years.

Pierrot led the way for television travelogue hosts like Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain. In addition to travel, George was known for his love of food, drink (Strohs), and off-color limericks. On February 16, 1980, George F. Pierrot suffered a heart attack at his Indian Village home and died forty-five minutes later at Henry Ford Hospital. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Wayne County.

World Adventure Series with George Pierrot circa 1960 

Michigan Outdoors with Mort Neff 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Michigan Native American Treaties--Paradise Lost

Civilization comes to the Great Lakes?

Thousands of years before the first Europeans set foot in the New World, indigenous tribes were living in migratory groups and large settlements thoughout what became the continental United States. Competition for land and natural resources in America began long before the white man arrived. Great Lakes tribes were feeling pressure from the Iroquios Confederation to the east and the Sioux Nation to the west. 

The Ottawa, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Wyandot (Huron), and Potawatomi settled near Fort Detroit in the eighteenth century and allied themselves with the French first, and then the English, as the Great Lakes area became a pawn of international politics in the French and Indian War against the British. There was much Native American blood shed on both sides depending on a tribe's loyalies. In 1783, Great Britain ceded the Michigan Territory to the nascent United States. 

During the nineteenth century, the Erie Canal opened up the Michigan Territory to settlers with a lust for land. The lucrative fur trade declined due to overtrapping and changing European fashion trends. Michigan pioneers wanted farmland and saw the local Indians as an obstacle, but to legally assume ownership of Indian ancestral land, governmental treaties were written to relinquish tribal claims to the land. 

Tribal leaders received cash, European goods including farming implements, clothing, barrels of whiskey, and empty promises. Once a treaty was signed, duly witnessed, and blessed by the Jesuits, the land was opened to lumbermen, farmers, surveyors, and land speculators from the East. The new American government failed to live up to the terms of its own treaties or its obligations to displaced indigenous peoples.

Pioneer farm in Monroe County.

Early Michigan settlers preferred the tillable fertile areas in the southern half of the Michigan Territory, but once the North was assayed, mining concerns from the East were interested in copper, iron ore, and limestone extraction. It was only a matter of time before the government put pressure on Northern Michigan tribes to cede their land holdings too.

Michigan Native American Treaties with the United States

*Treaty Name         Date     Area of Concern

Greenville              1795    The Detroit area north and south along the Detroit River.

Detroit                   1807    Much of Southeast Michigan.

Maumee                1817    Most of today’s Hillsdale County.

Saginaw                1819    Alpena-Lansing and areas east.

Sault Ste. Marie   1820    Eastern Chippewa County in U.P.

Chicago I              1821   Southwest
equivalent in size to Detroit treaty of 1807.  

Carey Mission      1828   Most of today’s Berrian County in the Southwest corner of Michigan. 

Chicago II            1833   In today’s Berrian County.

Washington         1836  Western half of northern lower peninsula of Michigan and the upper peninsula east of and including Alger and Delta Counties. 

Cedar Point         1836  Today’s Menominee County and part of Delta County.

La Point               1842  The upper peninsula west of Alger County and Delta Country.                                            

* Special thank you to Randall Schaetzl of Michigan State University

Ottawa War Chief Pontiac 

Erie Canal Opens Michigan to Settlement

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Detroit's Beloved Weatherman Sonny Eliot

Sonny Eliot and friend at the zoo.
Weatherman Sonny Eliot was well-known to generations of Detroiters. He began his career in 1947 at the very beginning of television broadcasting in Detroit and spent thirty-five years at WWJ (now WDIV), which included seventeen years hosting "At the Zoo." For many years, he was the Master of Ceremonies for Detroit's J.L. Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2010, Eliot retired from broadcasting.

Sonny Eliot was a cultural icon for Baby Boomers and their parents. Once called the Ernie Harwell [Detroit Tiger sportscaster] of weather, Eliot had an unprecedented 50% share of Detroit's television market during his weather segment. Perhaps he is best described as a borscht-belt comic weatherman and best known for his hybrid blending of weather conditions like "snog" for snow/fog, "cloggy" for cloudy/foggy, and "droudy" for dreary/cloudy. In addition to his television career, he was the author of four children's books. Eliot had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to make people laugh.

Marvin Schlossberg was born on Hastings Street December 5, 1920. He was the youngest child of Latvian Jewish parents. His mother nicknamed him "Sonny." He credits his mother for his sense of humor. His parents owned and ran a hardware store on Detroit's East Side. As he grew up, Sonny developed a passion for flying.

B-24 Liberator bomber
"During World War II, he was a B-24 bomber pilot who was shot down over Germany. Flak tore into his plane in February of 1944. He held the bomber as steady as he could while his crew parachuted before he jumped. Sonny was apprehended by a German farmer armed with a pitchfork and spent eighteen months in Stalagluft I until the end of the war. The POW camp was located near Barth, Germany. It was liberated the night of April 30, 1945, by Russian troops. The American prisoners were soon evacuated by American aircraft in "Operation Revival" and returned home.

Mel Butsicaris, son of Johnny Butsicaris and nephew of Jimmy Butsicaris, the Lindell AC bar owners, gave me permission to share his Facebook post on the Sonny Eliot he knew.

"Sonny was an incredible man and many stories have been told and written about his life. He lived, worked, and played in Detroit, so people felt like they knew him because he would take the time to acknowledge them. Uncle Sonny is what I called him. He was a unique man and a joy to be around: funny, smart, adventurous, generous, and fun-loving. He fit in with anybody he was with.
How we recognize Sonny best.

"People would see Uncle Sonny hanging out at the Lindell AC (Athletic Club) sports bar during the week. My dad even gave him an office on the second floor of our building. But on the weekends he focused on his two loves--his wife Annette and flying with my dad in an airplane they co-owned. Flying was their shared addiction.

"Uncle Sonny made everyone feel like a friend, so people naturally felt like they knew him. I have lost track of how many times people have come up to me and say they saw Sonny Eliot drunk at the Lindell feeling no pain, or Sonny was so funny after he had a few drinks. Newsflash! Sonny Eliot did not drink alcohol.

"To all the people that bought Uncle Sonny a drink in the Lindell, I am sorry for overcharging you, but you insisted I make him a drink. I would give him his usual glass of soda water with a splash of ginger ale for some color and a lemon twist. I would put my finger over the pour spout so it only looked like he was getting whiskey. His drinking was an act, but his wit, fun-loving personality, and his genuine kindness were real."

Marvin (Sonny Eliot) Schlossberg died peacefully among family and friends in his Farmington Hills home on November 16, 2012, at the age of ninety-one. Sonny Eliot led a remarkable life touching the lives of millions of Detroiters and leaving us better for the experience.

WWJ video tribute to Sonny Eliot--

Sonny Eliot nurses baby elephant with a Coke at the Lindell AC 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Terror In Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked--Radio Free Flint Podcast

Join us for Detroit Bookfest 5 on Sunday, July 17th, 2022, at the Eastern Market, Shed 5.

Some months ago, I did an hour long Zoom podcast with Arthur Busch of Radio Free Flint, but there were some technical difficulties in post production. 

Art edited a ten minute segment for me, so the interview would not be a total loss. Some of my answers are clipped but can be found within the pages of Terror In Ypsilanti.

Radio Free Flint--Terror In Ypsilanti

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Ypsilanti's Hutchinson House Built with S&H Green Stamp Fortune

Hutchinson House

In 1896, Thomas A. Sperry and Shelley Byron Hutchinson went into the S&H Green Stamp business together. The New York Times business section described this newly formed company "the first independent trading stamp company to distribute stamps and books to merchants."

Not much is known about Mr. Sperry. He was an Easterner. His home was destroyed by fire in 1912, with damages estimated to be $150,000. He was an avid art collector and a number of valuable paintings went up in flames. A year later, Sperry contracted ptomaine poisoning on a return ocean cruise from Europe. When he returned to the United States, he was so ill he couldn't travel to his home in Cranford, New Jersey. He was forty-nine years old when he died.

Sperry's brother, William Miller Sperry, inherited his brother's business interests and gained control of the company. In 1921, Shelley Hutchinson sued the estate of Thomas A. Sperry alleging that Sperry defrauded him of his full share of dividends to the tune of $5,000,000. Secret funds were diverted from company funds to Sperry. Hutchinson won the suit. The founders' family successors sold the franchise in 1981.

Much more in known about Shelley Hutchinson. His grandparents were among the first settlers in Ypsilanti, Michigan, still little more than a frontier outpost. Shelley's father Stephen Hutchinson married Loretta Jaycox on November 26, 1862. Shelley was born two years later in a log cabin in Superior Township on October 19, 1864. From 1874 until 1894, the Hutchinsons lived in a four room wood frame house at 509 N. River Street, across the street from the Champlain mansion. As a kid, he attended the Union School through the eighth grade--a typical education for a nineteenth-century boy.

Shelley was ambitious and intelligent. While working at a family shoe business with his father and brother in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the 1880s, he conjured up the idea for a trading stamp business he could promote to merchants as a customer retention program. On a small scale, the idea was promising, so a regional headquarters was established in Jackson, Michigan, chosen for its central location between the state's eastern and western borders.

Three years later, Hutchinson met Sperry in New York--an Easterner with money and business connections. Soon after they went into business, stamp redemption centers sprung up in many of Michigan's major cities. With early success, the promotion was expanded eventually growing into a nationwide coast-to-coast business concern. Sperry and Hutchinson made money hand over fist.

Shelley Hutchinson met Clara Unsinger, who was a stenographer in the company. Clara was the granddaughter of an Ypsilanti deacon. They were married on April 27, 1894. By the turn of the century, Hutchinson had amassed enough money to build his dream house. He considered building in New York, but his father urged him to build in Ypsilanti to be reunited with family and friends.

Feeling a boyhood affinity for the area, Hutchinson decided to build his thirty-room Richardsonian Revival mansion across the street from where he grew up--the site of the deteriorating Champlain mansion on the corner of North River and East Forest streets. Construction began in 1902 and was completed in 1904. Hutchinson called his mansion Casa Loma--Spanish for house on the hill. The site was believed to be Ypsilanti's highest point--on the east side anyway. He moved in with his wife, three children, parents, and brothers and sisters.

See the link below for more views of the house.

Building his mansion on Ypsilanti's east side was a social mistake for the wealthy millionaire. The Huron River was the town's dividing line. The east side was the working class neighborhood, and the west side was primarily for the wealthy and social elite. Hutchinson was never accepted into Ypsilanti high society because he was "new money" and shunned the "old money" denizens. He and his wife Clara rode around town in a fine phaeton carriage with matching horses. The newly rich pair wore only the finest clothes, and the "Stamp King" wore a silk top hat. During the height of his success, Hutchinson bought diamonds by the pocketful from Tiffany's in New York.

In an early undated Ypsilanti Daily Press article, the reporter wrote a "rags to riches" story about Hutchinson. Quoting merchant A.A. Bedell, "Hutchinson was always immaculate in dress, dark haired and handsome. One day, he stood in (my shoe store in Depot Town) and a shaft of light struck his diamonds, a glittering array. He had half-caret diamonds in each cuff link and wore two diamond rings, one of three carets and one between seven and eight. His shirt stud had a three and a half-caret stone." People said when Hutchinson walked in the sunshine, he sparkled.

But the domestic situation at Casa Loma was less than stellar. The Detroit News reported on July 3, 1906, that Mrs. Hutchinson deserted "the mansion on the hill" in anger taking her three children with her to live with neighbors across the street at 629 N. River Street. Clara had had it with her Hutchinson in-laws and complained to the reporter that she was forced from her home penniless--except for some diamonds she left with. Hutchinson's father and sister publicly claimed they wished Clara would return to manage the place. As for her husband, Shelley retreated and went south for his health. The domestic situation was intolerable for him too.

As the story goes, Shelley had been gravely ill and entrusted his wife with his diamonds. Upon recovery, he asked for them back. Clara refused saying he gave them to her. She hid the diamonds away, but while she was sleeping one night, her husband found her hiding place. Shelley locked the diamonds in a tin box and placed them in his roll-top desk in his locked home office. Two could play at that game. Clara took her husband's key and unlocked the office door. After a brief search, she found the tin box and opened it with a can opener. Then she left the mansion taking her children.

The Ypsilanti Daily Press reported on January 14, 1910, that a divorce was granted giving Clara custody of the three children, $9,000 cash paid out over five years, and her husband's diamonds. She sold the largest one to a neighbor and the rest to a diamond broker in Detroit. In 1912, Hutchinson's mansion was sold at public auction to the Ypsilanti Savings Bank to satisfy an unpaid mortgage and back taxes. The home has been used for a commercial property in the past but now houses the Highscope Education Research Foundation.

In an Ypsilanti Press interview in 1955, the ninety-one-year-old Hutchinson was living in New York. He was quoted as saying, "Some of the people (in Ypsilanti) were jealous of me because of the big house, but they had no reason to be. I was good to everybody." Shelley Hutchinson returned to Ypsilanti one last time time in 1961 for burial in a family plot at Highland Cemetery--several blocks north of his mansion. He was ninety-seven.

Most people in Ypsilanti are familiar with the outside of the Hutchinson House but have never seen the interior. Check out this link to see just how extravagant it is.

For more detailed information about the Hutchinson family, read Janice Anschuetz's article "River Street Neighbor's Gossip and the Hutchinson Marriage," which appeared in the Ypsilanti Historical Society's September 27, 2010, newsletter Ypsilanti Gleanings.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Detroit Time Capsule Searching for Its Audience

Detroit Time Capsule
(DTC) is a collection of 75 of my best Detroit Fornology blog posts gleaned from over 500 posts written over the last decade. DTC tells the story of the city's origin with the arrival of Antoine Cadillac in 1701 to the revitalization of Detroit as one of America's "comeback" cities of the twenty-first century. Each compact entry is three to five pages long for easy, convenient reading.

Published in 2022, this anthology is a trip down memory lane for Baby Boomers in the Greater Detroit area, and an entertaining historical survey for younger Detroiters or recent arrivals to our city of events and people that left their mark on Detroit.

People like Father Gabriel Richard, "Mad" Anthony Wayne, Henry and Edsel Ford, Joe Louis, Berry Gordy, George Pierrot, Mort Neff, Bill Kennedy, Soupy Sales, Edythe Fern Melrose (Lady of Charm), Ollie Fretter, Martha Jean "The Queen," Connie Kalitta, Alex Karras, Leaping Larry Chene, and Shirley Muldowney to name a few.

These posts originally appeared in my Fornology blog but have since been updated and reedited for this edition. As I pull the plug on my blog in the next year or so, this collection will become a collectors' item that includes topics and information you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. My blog posts will fade into cyberspace, but the book will endure. Makes a great gift for former Detroiter's too.

My Amazon Author Page

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Elusive Purple Gang--Radio Free Flint Podcast

 The Elusive Purple Gang recounts Detroit's violent Prohibition gang and their meteoric rise and fall. 

This Radio Free Flint podcast is hosted by former Genesee County [Michigan] prosecutor Arthur Busch. His podcasts are committed to public service and social justice. 

Arthur Busch --Radio Free Flint

Busch shares the voices of America's rust belt, their blue collar values, and their way of life. Enjoy my interview with this skillful moderator. 

The Purple Gang's Rise and Fall

Monday, June 6, 2022

WXYZ's Fred Wolf and his Wacky Wandering Wigloo

"Master of Sparemonies," the "Old Percolator," "Swampy Joe," and "King of Detroit Morning Radio," Fred Wolf.

Pioneering Detroit WXYZ sportcaster Fred Wolf was born in Poughkeepsie, New York on May 26, 1910. When Fred was six-years-old, his father died. Fred's mother remarried and the family relocated to Detroit in 1920. The young boy grew up to be a gifted athlete courtesy of the Detroit Recreation Department and their community sports programs. 

Fred played baseball when he attended Cass Technical High School and had aspirations to play in the major leagues. As with most high school athletes, that dream never materialized. After high school, Fred studied engineering in a Ford Trade School apprenticeship program.

At the age of twenty, Fred worked as a pinsetter and began to bowl on a league. Within a year, he bowled his first perfect 300 game, he was hooked on bowling and became instrumental in popularizing what was once a pastime into a professional sport.

After Wolf completed his Ford apprentiship, he was hired in 1934 to work in Chrysler Corporation's engineering department. By World War II, he rose through the ranks to become a superintendent at the Chrysler tank plant in Warren, Michigan, where he supervised 450 employees. While at Chrysler, Wolf was captain of the Tank Arsenal team in their company's ten-team bowling league. Other team names were Dodge Main, Super-finishers, and De Soto Engineers, etc. 

Fred also bowled on a the Stroh's Keglers team in the industrial league where he was their strongest bowler. On April 29, 1941, he won the individual competition in Detroit's American Bowling Conference out of a field of 32 of the city's top bowlers. He bowled 647 [three game total] while the next best competitor totaled 619. Fred clearly had found his groove.


On August 14, 1944, at the age of thirty-four, Wolf hurt his back playing softball which forced him to retire from the semi-professional bowling circuit. He was made manager of the Stroh's Keglers and introduced the bowlers over the public address system and reported scores. Norman White of radio station WJR asked Fred if he ever thought about doing a bowling show on radio. "What would it take?" Fred asked. White answered, "Get a guest, write an interview. Write the whole show--opening and closing--but leave two spots for commercials."

While recuperating from his back injury at home, Fred was listening to the World Series on the radio and wondered outloud to his wife Emily if a bowling tournament could be broadcast the same way. "Why not?" Emily answered. 

Fred shopped the idea around to Detroit radio stations before finally being accepted by WXYZ-Radio beginning his long broadcast career. His first weekly show was named The Ten Pin Talker. It was only fifteen minutes long, sponsored by E&B breweries. Wolf reported bowling scores from around Detroit and profiled top bowlers. Broadcasting opened up the bowling and the professional sports world for him.

Radio's The Ten Pin Talker led four years later to television's Make It and Take It, a program where local bowlers would try to make some of bowling's most difficult combinations for cash. Following the success of that program, WXYZ gave Wolf a bowling series called Bowling Champions in 1950. Wolf began live, lane-side broadcasting which became popular locally.

Championship Bowling title card

In 1956, the American Broadcasting Company, WXYZ's parent company, asked Wolf if he would like to announce a coast-to-coast program called Championship Bowling for ABC Sports. That program began a twelve-year national run which did much to popularize bowling nationwide and advance the sport.

In the early days of television, bowling was a winter sport, so the WXYZ station manager asked if Wolf could report on something besides bowling. Soon, he was reading baseball scores, announcing boxing and wrestling matches, commentating at golf tournaments, and hosting the popular Hot Rod Races from the Motor City Speedway where midget race cars competed in 25 lap races, and as an added bonus, there was a demolition derby event which Detroiters took an instant liking to.

Demolition Derby Carnage

While Fred Wolf was pioneering television sports programming, he was also a WXYZ-Radio morning deejay beginning in 1950 until 1965. His show was broadcast from 6 until 9 am every weekday morning. WXYZ-Radio originally broadcast from the Mendelssohn Mansion on East Jefferson Avenue. 

To gin up interest in his early, music radio program, Wolf asked the station manager if he could have an eight-by-ten foot broadcast booth built three feet off the ground in front of the mansion. He also wanted it to have large windows on three sides so motorists and pedestrians could see him spin records. It was a quirky idea, but the mini radio studio was paid for in radio endorsements for Peterson glass and Chaplow Lumber Company, so the project was given the go-ahead. 

Fred christened the booth "Wolf's Wacky Wigloo." It became an overnight sensation drawing in 35% of the morning radio audience. People drove by the Wigloo on their way to work and honked. Wolf told a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, "I like broadcasing from the Wigloo. I can see my listeners drive or walk by. It is more interesting than working in an enclosed studio."

WXYZ had outgrown its downtown studios and urban renewal was about to decimate the Black Bottom area where the studio was located. The station decided to build something they called Broadcast House in Southfield, Michigan. The radio station was slated to move into their new digs in June 1959. Wolf realized he was losing his Wacky Wigloo in the demolition process. On a personal note, he did not want to drive to Southfield from Grosse Pointe Woods. He would have to get up at 3:00 am to make it to work.

As he had done with the original Wigloo, Wolf came up with an original idea. He asked McDonald Trailer Sales if they could modify a thirty-foot trailer and replace the back end with glass on three sides. The station would install the turntables and other broadcasting equipment to make the trailer into a mobile radio studio. 

The cost of the trailer would be paid for with radio endorsements. WXYZ management was skeptical but approved the project on the strength of Wolf's popularity and his success bringing in new sponsors and advertising dollars.

Fred Wolf and his Wandering Wigloo.

The first stop for the newly rechristened Wandering Wigloo was the University of Detroit campus on the corner of Livernois and McNichols. Wolf pulled up at various familiar locations around town like the State Fair Grounds, City Hall, Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detoit Zoo, and private businesses, especially car dealerships. The Wandering Wigloo would broadcast from businesses for a week if they bought 5 spots a day of targeted advertising for 26 weeks. The Wandering Wigloo soon proved its worth.

The promotion was so successful that radio stations from around the country sent their people to Detroit to witness this public relations innovation. WXYZ soon built a second trailer for deejay Paul Winter, a third trailer was located in Dearborn, and a permanent broadcast booth was installed at the Sears Shopping Center in suburban Lincoln Park. Radio engineers were doing remote broadcasts from 6 am until 10 pm everyday. 

Everything was fine until a change of management tightened up their radio broadcasting programming. In short, the dee jays were to talk less, run jingle advertisements, and play music taken from a Top 40 play list. This was the radio industry's response to payola scandals in the music recording and broadcast business in the late 1950s. "Pay for Play" was illegal, and the play lists were the only way radio stations could insure against it. AM radio became repetitive and boring.

Wolf, who was generally a team player, let management know he was displeased. "I play happy music for my morning listeners as they get ready for work. I refuse to play rock & roll." Music trends had changed and his show's ratings dropped.

Wolf decided to retire from his morning radio show in August 1965, but Fred was too valuable to WXYZ to let him go, so he was bumped up to Vice President of Public Relations and official Channel 7 spokesperson. Wolf continued to do special broadcasts like the annual Port Huron to Mackinac Island Gold Cup Races and the Buick Open Golf Tournament.


In 1978, a stroke partially paralyzed Wolf and left him unable to speak, though he continued swimming using only one arm. At the age of ninety on August 7, 2000, Fred died in his Grosse Pointe Woods home of complications from a second stroke with his wife Emily by his side. The Wolfs were childless. Fred had a private funeral service and was buried in Roseland Park in Berkley, Michigan.

Emily Rybacki Wolf followed her husband to the grave two years later. At her husband's death, Emily said of him, "Fred was a very upright, kind man and a natural athlete." She must have been a remarkably supportive wife for her ambitious husband who worked long, irregular hours with a punishing broadcast schedule. Whatever they endured together over the years, they were married for sixty-five years. 

Fred Wolf produced over 800 local bowling shows on WXYZ radio and television, including 272 hours of announcing nationwide on ABC's Championship Bowling series. Wolf was a championship bowler in his own right and was inducted into the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, the Michigan State Bowling Association Hall of Fame, the Greater Detroit Bowling Hall of Fame, and he served as president of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

A full accounting of Fred Wolf's awards and honors are too numerous to list here, but one stands out in particular. Fred held the American Bowling Congress' record for the most years between his first 300 game and his second in 1975--forty-four years. I am sure that factoid was a source of merriment at Fred's induction to their Hall of Fame. Fred was a bowling champion to be sure, but there have been many bowling champions before and since. Fred was one of a kind.

Shock Theater and Mr. X