Thursday, October 31, 2013

Le Nain Rouge: Detroit's "red dwarf"

If you're ever in Detroit and see a goblin-like creature heading toward you, clad in fur boots and rocking red eyes and rotting teeth, you might want to head the other way (and, ladies, not just because it might be a creepy guy trying to hit on you). The creature is probably Le Nain Rouge, "the red dwarf," who, for more than three centuries, has appeared in Detroit to signify the impending occurrence of something bad.

I would think the simple fact that the dwarf
 appeared would be bad enough itself.

Stories of Le Nain Rouge encounters have been around since at least 1701, when Detroit's first white resident, Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac, is said to have met the dwarf shortly after arriving from Canada. Cadillac chased away Le Nain Rouge, but couldn't escape its prediction of doom, for the explorer ended up losing his fortune not long after the encounter.

Le Nain Rouge has appeared in Detroit several other times, dancing and doing back flips (as one does) before tragic events in the city. A partial listing of the crises that drew Le Nain Rouge to Detroit includes:

*1763---the Battle of Bloody Run, in which Ottawa Chief Pontiac's men killed several British soldiers who were attempting to end a Native American siege of Fort Detroit. (In this case, looked at from Pontiac's point of view, Le Nain Rouge was basically a good luck charm.)

*1805---the Detroit fire, during which the city was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.

*1812---the surrender of Detroit to British forces during the War of 1812.

*1967---the Detroit riot, which lasted five days, cost forty-three lives, and led to arson- and looting-related damages of 40 million to 80 million dollars.

Though most residents of a city that has its own harbinger of doom might shy away from provoking it, Detroiters do the opposite. Since 2010, the city has held the "Marche du Nain Rouge," a parade and festival during which participants burn an effigy of the dwarf, thereby banishing him from Detroit for a year. Festivalgoers wear costumes so that the dwarf won't know who they are in case he somehow returns to wreak vengeance.

Taking the opposite tack, the Detroit Beer Company decided to honor Le Nain Rouge by naming a beer after it. "Detroit Dwarf" lager has become the company's house specialty. Maybe someday, if Detroiters can arrange a truce with their impish terrorizer, Le Nain Rouge will be more than happy to settle down on a bar stool, a pint of Detroit Dwarf in hand, and regale the city with tales of mischief and devilry. Until then, every year during the Marche du Nain Rouge, Detroiters will have to tell the little guy, " gotta go."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The true story behind the Mayo Hall haunting

If the stories are to be believed, a ghostly presence stalks Mayo Hall, a dormitory in the West Circle complex on the north side of Michigan State University. For decades, students who lived in the Tudor-style building have reported eerie goings on—strange noises, lights that turn on and off, a piano that plays by itself. Some residents have seen the apparition of a woman, while others report being watched by the piercing eyes of the dorm’s namesake, Mary Mayo, as she stares at them from a portrait on the first floor.

Portrait of Mary Mayo. Okay, I'll admit I'd be a little
freaked out if I thought that she was watching me.

Whether or not Mayo Hall is home to a ghost may be up for debate, but the fact remains that several of the rumors that led to Mayo Hall’s reputation as the most haunted building at Michigan State are simply not true. Believers insist that it’s Mayo’s ghost that haunts the building, and that she either killed herself or was murdered. Some versions of the story hold that she actually died in Mayo Hall itself. The truth is that Mary Mayo died in 1903 after an illness, and did so a full 28 years before the residence hall bearing her name was even built. That’s not to say that her ghost doesn’t haunt the building. However, it does beg the question: Why, if Mary Mayo is the hall’s ghostly resident, would she spend her afterlife scaring students in a building that, when she died, didn’t even exist?
Mayo Hall
Nothing in Mayo’s background indicates that she would become what many believe is Michigan State’s most notorious specter. Born in 1845 in Battle Creek, she married husband Perry in 1865, and raised two children, a son named Nelson and a daughter named Nellie. Mayo was a teacher, and believed that women should have access to a quality college education. As a member of the Grange, a nationwide social and advocacy group that promoted the interests of rural residents, she spoke about the need to create women’s programs in universities, including Michigan State (which at the time was called State Agricultural College). Her wish came true in 1896 when SAC created a women’s curriculum. Mayo died a few years later, in 1903, and is buried in Austin Cemetery in Calhoun County’s Convis Township.

Her earthly remains may rest in southwest Michigan, but apparently many people believe that Mayo’s spirit traveled sixty miles north to spend eternity in a Michigan State dormitory. Reports of hauntings have persisted since Mayo Hall opened as a woman’s residence hall in 1931. The rumors passed from one class to another, and became even creepier when students began talking about a “red room” on the building’s fourth floor, where unknown people were said to have conducted satanic rituals. Spirits are mysterious creatures, so the question of whether or not Mayo Hall is haunted may never be answered. However, we do know that Mary Mayo was a groundbreaking crusader for the rights of women in academia, and it’s this achievement—not the possibility that she wreaks ghostly havoc in Mayo Hall—that should be her real legacy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Thelma" haunts the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre

This past weekend, my husband and I took a "ghost tour" of Kalamazoo. It was sponsored by the Kalamazoo Jaycees, which runs the "Ghosts of Kalamazoo Historic Tour" as a fundraiser for Warm Kids, an organization that provides winter weather gear to children who need it. The tour schedule has wrapped for the year, but keep an eye out for the next round of tours during the 2014 Halloween season. We had a great time, and learned a lot about the history of downtown Kalamazoo as well as the ghostly inhabitants that haunt it.

One of the stories our tour guides mentioned was about "Thelma Mertz," a ghost that is said to lurk the halls of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre at 329 S. Park Street. No one really knows when Thelma began her supernatural wanderings, but reports of her ghost have been made since at least the 1950s. Thelma's true identity is a mystery, as is her real name. (She became "Thelma Mertz" in the 1970s, when members of a summer youth program at the Civic gave her the moniker. I wonder if she's any relation to Fred and Ethel.)

The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, home to Thelma the ghost

Whoever she is, Thelma seems to be a benign spirit, preferring mischief to terror. The Civic's flesh-and-blood inhabitants have reported the sound of footsteps walking across the stage when no one was on it, and have also felt a ghostly presence, as though some unseen person was in the room with them. Thelma has played the theatre's piano, then stopped when someone entered the room to check on the noise. Sometimes Thelma moves items across a room, or opens and closes dressing room doors. Her playfulness isn't restricted to backstage areas. On occasion, actors report, she has messed with their costumes while they were onstage.

For the most part, Thelma's pranks are harmless, and while some Civic Theatre regulars believe her story is more legend than reality, almost all of them embrace their unknown visitor. Like curtain calls and standing ovations, Thelma has become a part of the theatre itself.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Annie Edson Taylor: Niagara daredevil

Most people find the thought of dropping over Niagara Falls in a barrel unappealing, to say the least. A few young daredevils might consider it the "ultimate rush" (or whatever the kids are saying these days), but most of us who are happily settled into adulthood need nothing more than to look at a photo of the falls, or maybe gaze at them from behind the safety of a barrier, to satisfy our desire for adventure.

Yep, that about does it for me.

Technically, Bay City resident Annie Edson Taylor wasn't looking for a thrill so much as a paycheck when she became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. However, Taylor was definitely at an age when most Michiganders were dipping into their pensions, not plunging 167 feet over one of North America's best-known waterfalls. Taylor made the trip on October 24, 1901---her sixty-third birthday.

Annie Edson Taylor

Taylor was born in 1838 in Auburn, New York, and experienced tragedy at an early age. Her father died when she was 12, and her only child with husband David Taylor died a few days after birth. David himself died not long after, in the Civil War. The newly widowed Taylor moved around the country looking for work, and eventually ended up in Bay City, where she opened a dance school at the corner of Center Avenue and Saginaw Street. She attracted a number of students, but, because she tried to maintain the well-to-do lifestyle she had enjoyed as a child, she quickly spent most of her money. In 1900, Taylor moved to Sault Saint Marie, where she taught music, but still wasn't earning enough to support herself. Taylor and a friend traveled to Mexico City, where they hoped to find jobs, but had no luck. Defeated, Taylor moved back to Bay City and considered ways she could avoid the poorhouse.

After reading a newspaper article that mentioned Niagara Falls, Taylor hatched a plan. The falls, located along the border of New York State and Ontario, were a major tourist attraction. Taylor figured that, by becoming the first person to survive a barrel plunge over them, she could parlay her experience into fame and fortune. She approached staff members at the West Bay City Cooperage Company to design a barrel that could withstand the tens of thousands of cubic feet of water that plunge over the falls every second. She also solicited local promoter Frank M. Russell to serve as her manager. The cooperage came up with an oak-and-iron barrel that Taylor could stuff with a mattress to cushion herself from the beating she would take in the rapids below the falls. The barrel also contained an anvil at its bottom, so that it would stay balanced in the roiling water. Thus equipped with her ticket to wealth, Taylor headed for the falls on October 12, 1901.

Taylor may have been desperate for money, but she wasn't crazy. Before she took her historic plunge, she wanted to see whether the barrel---and consequently, she herself---would survive it. A few days before her scheduled trip, Taylor stuffed into the barrel what at the time was the world's unluckiest cat, and sent it over the Horseshoe Falls, the largest of Niagara's three cascades. Surprisingly, the cat survived, and Taylor posed for photos with it, determined that she, too, would live through the ordeal.

Let's give credit where credit's due; technically, the cat was the first
 living thing to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

On October 24, 1901, Taylor and a few helpers crowded into a rowboat in the Niagara River, ready to make history. Taylor's helpers held the barrel at the rowboat's edge and Taylor climbed in, clutching a lucky pillow to her chest. Her associates secured the lid, then compressed the air inside the barrel with a bicycle pump. They used a cork to plug the air hole, and set the barrel adrift, watching as it began the first portion of its twenty-minute journey to the Horseshoe Falls. Taylor's trip over the waterfall itself lasted a few seconds, but her barrel remained at the falls' base for a significant amount of time before rescuers could retrieve it. Nervous about whether the barrel had, in fact, become Taylor's coffin, rescuers opened it to find a bewildered but very much alive Taylor, who had survived the ordeal with nothing more than a cut on her head---though she latter gave the press some choice words about her experience. "I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces, than make another trip over the fall," Taylor said.

Taylor being helped to shore after her trip over the falls

Her goal achieved, Taylor got ready to rake in the money. However, her luck after the falls escapade was just as bad as her luck had been before it. Russell, the manager she had brought with her from Bay City, made off with Taylor's barrel, and she spent a significant amount of money on private investigators to track it down. Though Taylor earned some cash posing for photos and selling souvenirs, she ultimately had to pursue other lines of work to make ends meet. Poverty-stricken, Taylor died in 1921 at the age of 82. Though Taylor's deed failed to bring her material wealth, it did write a place for her in the history books. Taylor is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York, in an area known as the "stunter's section," which is the final resting place of individuals who made names for themselves by challenging one of the continent's mightiest waterfalls.

For more information:

Annie Edson Taylor isn't the only Michigander to travel over the Horseshoe Falls. In 2003, Canton resident Kirk Jones made the trip---and did so by himself, with no barrel or gear to protect him. The 40-year-old was unemployed, and said that his plunge over the falls was a suicide attempt, though his family said he had undertaken the stunt as a way to become famous and make money. Jones jumped into the Niagara River a mere twenty feet from the Horseshoe Falls, then pulled himself out of harm's way once he reached the bottom. Emergency responders took Jones to a hospital, but he suffered nothing more than a few minor rib injuries. Jones's trip over the falls ended up costing him money. Officials arrested him for causing mischief and performing a stunt in Niagara Parks, and he pled guilty, paying a few thousand dollars in fines.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Michigan Dogman

Forget Bigfoot. Michigan has its own bipedal beast that stalks the woods. That creature is the Dogman.

Stories about a canine-type beast that walks on two legs have been passed around Michigan for centuries. The Odawa told tales of a creature called the wendigo, which tempted tribesmen to kill and eat their families. French settlers spoke of the loup garou, a human who could change into a wolf. ("Loup" means "wolf" in French, while "garou" means something similar to "werewolf.")

The Michigan Dogman has been described as seven feet tall (when he stands on two legs) and 400 to 700 pounds. He has brownish/grayish fur, and differs from a werewolf in that he's not a human who changes into a wolf, but rather a creature that remains half dog/half human all the time. The first known modern sighting of a Dogman occurred in Wexford County in 1887. Two lumberjacks claimed they saw a creature that had the body of a man and the head of a dog. They chased it, but the creature "screamed," frightening the lumberjacks so badly that they hightailed it out of there. Other encounters with the Dogman (or with Dogmen) have occurred sporadically since then, with run-ins reported in such communities as Paris, Manistee, Cross Village, Luther, Onaway, Chelsea, and the UP's Garden Peninsula. 

The Michigan Dogman remained a semi-obscure state legend until 1987, when Steve Cook, a disc jockey at WTCM in Traverse City, played a song called "The Legend," which was about the various encounters Michiganders have had with the Dogman. Cook, who recorded the song, intended it as an April Fools' joke, but ended up receiving several calls from listeners who claimed to have seen the creature themselves. Here's the song, which became one of WTCM's most-requested tunes:

The Dogman received more media attention in 2007 with the discovery of "The Gable Film," which purported to show a Dogman attack on camera. The video, which appeared online, has a grainy quality that makes it look like a film from the 1970s. It shows images of a family doing mundane things like driving snowmobiles and chopping wood. Everything is all fun and games until the last scene, which contains blurry footage (and, really, isn't the footage in all these types of videos blurry?) of a creature staring at the cameraman from a few hundred feet away. The creature charges on four legs at the cameraman. One of the last images is of the Dogman's teeth hovering over the lens...then the camera drops to the ground, and all is still. Watch the video and then, below the clip, I'll let you know what I thought the first time I saw it. (Caution: If you're not a fan of wiggly camerawork, you might not want to watch this.)


Yeah, that's a guy in a dog suit.

As it turns out, that's exactly what the creature really was. (Actually, it was a guy in a ghillie suit, which is a type of camouflage that's supposed to look like plants, but close enough.)

In 2010, the History Channel show "Monster Quest" (don't get me started on how far away from "history" the History Channel has fallen) devoted an episode to the Michigan Dogman, and looked into the authenticity of "The Gable Film." Ultimately, the show revealed that the video was a hoax created in 2002 by Mike Agrusa, who was a fan of Cook's song. Agrusa made another video, "The Gable Film Part 2," that claimed to show the police investigation that occurred after the attack in Film 1---and that included footage of the cameraman's body. (Agrusa substituted painted foam insulation for the unfortunate victim's blood and guts.)  I was going to post that video here, but the image YouTube was going to show as a placeholder is of the body in question, so in the interest of not making anyone squeamish, I've chosen not to include it. If you want to see the film, just go to YouTube and search for "Gable Film Part 2."

Here's a clip from the "Monster Quest" episode that debunked Gable Films 1 and 2:

"The Legend"---the song that some might say started it all---recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and the website offers CD and DVD copies of the tune, as well as other Dogman-related products. Profits from these sales go to several animal rescue groups throughout the state. Whether or not the Michigan Dogman is fact or fiction, his existence helps other Michigan dogs (and cats) find safe, happy homes, which I think is a cool thing (and I bet the Dogman does, too).

For more information:

If you're interested in the Dogman stories and legends, check out Linda S. Godfrey's book, "The Michigan Dogman: Werewolves and Other Unknown Canines Across the U.S.A."

In 2012, the story of the Dogman came to the silver screen in the form of "Dogman," a movie starring Michigan native Larry Joe Campbell (best known for the TV show "According to Jim"). Reviews have not been kind, but you can see the trailer below. The movie must have done well enough, because a sequel, "Dogman 2: The Wrath of the Litter," is scheduled for release in 2014.

Wisconsin has its own version of the Dogman, called the "Beast of Bray Road." Check out more information about it on Wikipedia.

The legend of the Ada Witch

Sorry I haven't been posting regularly for the past week or so. I've been a bit under the weather, but I'm starting to feel better, so I'm back with the first in a series of articles about "creepy Michigan things"---legends, crimes, paranormal activities, etc. It's my homage to Halloween---just a week away!

As far as I'm concerned, the main reason Halloween exists
 is to make dogs dress up in costumes.

I used to live in Grand Rapids, and everyone there knows the story of the Ada Witch. (Ada is a township located a few miles east of GR.) The short version is this: During the 1800s, a young married woman was having an affair, and met up with her honey at a woods near what is now Findlay Cemetery, on 2 Mile Road. The woman's husband found out about the tryst, and caught the couple in the act. Furious, he killed his wife, then turned his attention to her lover. The two men struggled, but were evenly matched, and eventually both died from injuries they sustained during the fight.

Now, according to legend, during the full moon, the woman's ghost haunts Findlay Cemetery and areas surrounding it, including the nearby woods, Seidman Park, and Honey Creek Avenue. She's described as being either a beautiful girl dressed in white, or a disfigured woman bearing the injuries inflicted by her husband. Visitors to the cemetery also claim to have seen eerie mists and orbs, as well as heard the sounds of fighting---presumably the battle between the cuckolded husband and his wife's lover. Other creepy occurrences have been reported---the sounds of footsteps, weeping, and screams, as well as the feeling of being tapped on the shoulder.

Drawing of the "Ada Witch"

Nowhere in the legend does it say that the woman was, in fact, a witch, so I'm not sure how her nickname developed. Likewise, historical records don't provide any information regarding an incident in which three people died in the woods near Ada in the 19th century, so, to my mind, the story is highly suspect. Findlay Cemetery does contain a gravestone where people leave trinkets, presuming it to be the final resting place of the "Ada Witch." That gravestone belongs to Sarah McMillan, a young woman who died in 1870. However, McMillan died of typhoid, not from a midnight struggle with her husband, so she is definitely not the witchy woman of legend.

I love hearing and reading about paranormal activity, but I'm also a bit of a skeptic, so, for me, the Ada Witch is nothing more than a legend that has made visits to Findlay Cemetery a bit more exciting for those who want to believe. That said, there's no way you'd find me in Findlay Cemetery at night during a full moon. Or at night any other time of the month, for that matter. A dog wearing a Halloween costume is spooky enough for me.

For more information:

Several websites about the Ada Witch exist. Just do a Google search for "Ada Witch," and you'll find information about the legend, as well as stories and photos from people who claim to have seen her ghost.

Check out the book "Haunted Houses of Grand Rapids," by Gary Eberle, which contains a chapter on the Ada Witch. The book is twenty years old, but has a lot of interesting stories about supposed haunted places in Grand Rapids and surrounding areas. I own this book, but haven't read it in a while, so I might have to break it out for another "creepy read" before Halloween.

"Ghosts of Grand Rapids" by Nicole Bray, Robert DuShane, and Julie Rathsack is another book that contains information about the Ada Witch. It was published just this past summer, and though I don't own it, I'm looking forward to reading it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The story of Michigan's state quarter

From 1999 through 2008, the United States Mint produced a series of fifty quarters, each representing one of the nation's fifty states. The Mint released five new quarters every year, basing their order on the date each state entered the union (or, in the case of the thirteen original colonies, the order each state ratified the Constitution). Michigan's turn came in 2004, when, as the 26th state, its quarter became the 26th design the Mint released. This post is about the Michigan quarter---who designed it, how it was chosen, and what it symbolizes about the Great Lakes State.

Michigan's state quarter

The Mint let each state select the design for its quarter, but released a series of guidelines for designers to follow. No living person could appear on a state quarter, nor could logos or symbols for businesses, organizations, religious groups, or sports teams. Because coins typically circulate for thirty years, each design would have to be just as relevant to people in the 2030s as it was to people in the early 2000s. The design also had to represent the experiences of all of a state's inhabitants, not just those of a few, and, of course, it could not be inappropriate or controversial.

Michigan began the design process in 2001, three years before its coin's release. Governor John Engler established the Michigan Quarter Commission, which solicited designs from state residents. The commission received 4,300 submissions, which it narrowed down to designs that represented five themes. Each theme featured an outline of the state of Michigan, but also included elements that set it apart from the other options. Ultimately, the governor would choose which design appeared on the quarter, but state officials conducted an unofficial poll to determine which design Michiganders liked most. The designs and poll results (as well as my unsolicited opinions) appear below.

 Michigan State Outline with Great Lakes and State Icons: 14,333 votes.
This quarter received the most votes, which surprises me; the design is okay, but it seems a little cluttered.

Michigan State Outline with the Mackinac Bridge and Automobile: 10,141 votes.
This design is my favorite, as it seems the most "balanced" out of all five themes.

Michigan State Outline with Great Lakes and Automobile: 7,641 votes.
I like this one too, but that is one big car.

Michigan State Outline with Great Lakes: 6,298 votes.
The eventual winner; it's not bad, but seems kind of boring.

Michigan State Outline with Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge: 2,166 votes.
 This looks scary, like the bridge is overtaking the state.

Governor Jennifer Granholm eventually chose "Michigan State Outline with Great Lakes" as the winning design and, after some minor tweaking, the coin was released on January 26, 2004---the 167th anniversary of Michigan's statehood. The design commemorates the fact that Michigan is the only state to touch four of the five Great Lakes, as well as the fact that so much of Michigan's history and economy has been tied to these "inland seas." No matter where a person goes in Michigan, he or she is never more than 85 miles from a Great Lake, so despite the fact that residents preferred other designs, the simple "Great Lakes" theme probably does the best job of portraying something that's an important element in the lives of most Michiganders.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Rosie the Riveter" was from Michigan, Part II: Rose Will Monroe

Yesterday, I wrote about Geraldine Doyle, a "Rosie the Riveter" from Michigan. Here's a link to that post:  "Rosie the Riveter" was from Michigan, Part I: Geraldine Doyle

Doyle wasn't the only "Rosie" to hail from the Great Lakes State. Rose Will Monroe, who helped build Air Force bombers at the Willow Run aircraft factory in Ypsilanti, was another one. Unlike Doyle, whose face appeared on the "We Can Do It!" poster that shows a female factory worker flexing her muscle, Monroe earned her fame by appearing in a short film that promoted war bonds.

Rose Will Monroe

Born in Kentucky in 1920, Monroe became a young widow when her husband died in a car accident in 1942. Suddenly, Monroe needed a way to support herself and her two young children. She found it at Willow Run, where she hoped to become one of the women whom the Ford Motor Company employed to fly armaments across the country. However, because Monroe was a single mother, her request to become a pilot was denied, and she was placed on the assembly line, where she riveted pieces of B-24 bombers.

See where this is going? ROSE Monroe was working as a RIVETER.

One day, actor Walter Pidgeon, star of several Hollywood movies, was touring Willow Run during a war bond drive when he heard about Monroe. In 1942, the song "Rosie the Riveter" had introduced the title character to Americans, describing a woman who was "making history, working for victory" by building military vehicles while "smeared full of oil and grease." A video of the song follows this paragraph. I've got to warn you: it's very catchy, and will probably stick in your head all day.

In addition to working for victory, Rosie the Riveter was kind of obsessed with war bonds, as the lyrics note:
Rosie buys a lot of War Bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase more Bonds
Putting all her extra cash in National Defense

Inspired by the fact that he had met a real-life "Rosie the Riveter" (or "Rose the Riveter," which apparently was close enough), Pidgeon asked Monroe to star in a film that promoted war bonds. She agreed, and became the face of Rosie the Riveter to millions of Americans who saw the short in movie theaters. (I've searched the Internet, but can't find clips from the film, or even still pictures from it, so unfortunately, I can't show you what Monroe looked or sounded like as her alter ego.)

When the war ended, so did Monroe's position at Willow Run, and she moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where she worked a variety of jobs, including driving a cab, owning a beauty shop, and even starting her own construction company. At age 50, Monroe realized a lifelong dream when she earned her pilot's license (an opportunity she had been denied at Willow Run). Unfortunately, her dream ended in 1978, when she crashed her plane and suffered injuries so severe that she could no longer fly. Monroe died in 1997 at age 77 and is buried in New Albany, Indiana, under a headstone that reads "Rosie the Riveter."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Rosie the Riveter" was from Michigan, Part I: Geraldine Doyle

Did you know that Michigan was home to not one, but two, Rosie the Riveters? "How is that possible?" you might ask. "There's only one Rosie the Riveter." It's true that there's only one iconic symbol of female fortitude named Rosie the Riveter, but several real-life women inspired her creation. Two of those women happen to be from Michigan. This post will focus on one of them, Geraldine Doyle, while tomorrow's post will talk about Rose Will Monroe.

The illustration below is probably the best-known image of Rosie the Riveter, who represented the thousands of World War II-era women who took on factory jobs when their menfolk went off to war:

It might surprise you to learn that this image was never supposed to be Rosie the Riveter. Instead, it was part of a promotional campaign from Westinghouse Electric that tried to boost morale among the company's workers. The poster was displayed in a few Westinghouse factories in February 1943, and featured a generic working woman (i.e., not Rosie the Riveter). It wasn't seen outside the company, and, like all the posters in Westinghouse's campaign, it was meant to motivate both men and women.

Another poster from the same campaign. With a snappy
slogan like that, I can't imagine why this image didn't catch on.
The poster remained obscure until the 1980s, when it was rediscovered and appropriated as a "girl power" image. That's also when people began calling the woman on the poster "Rosie the Riveter." The resurgence in interest must have come as a surprise to Geraldine Doyle, the Michigan woman who had no idea that her photo had inspired the now-iconic poster---or even that the poster existed.

Geraldine Doyle working at the American Broach & Machine
Company in Ann Arbor; this image served as inspiration for
Westinghouse Electric's famous "We Can Do It!" poster.

Doyle was born in Inkster in 1924 and graduated from high school in Ann Arbor. In 1942, to demonstrate her patriotism, Doyle (who at the time was known by her maiden name of Hoff) took a job as a metal stamper at the American Broach & Machine Company in Ann Arbor. Two weeks later she quit, deciding that, as a cellist, she couldn't risk injuring her hands in an industrial accident. However, during Doyle's two weeks in the factory, a photographer from United Press International took the photo you see above---a photo that later served as artist J. Howard Miller's inspiration when he designed the posters for Westinghouse's campaign.

After leaving the factory, Doyle worked at a soda fountain and bookstore. In 1943, she married Leo Doyle, a dentist, and eventually raised six children with him. Though Geraldine Doyle had always known about the UPI photograph, she had no idea that it had inspired a poster until 1984, when she read a magazine article about the image's creation. Doyle's daughter, Stephanie Gregg, told the Los Angeles Times that, although her mom didn't have the bulging biceps flaunted by the woman on the image, Doyle immediately recognized herself. Doyle embraced her newfound fame, gladly signing autographs for fans who wanted to meet the "We Can Do It Girl."

Geraldine Doyle holding a "We Can Do It!" sign
a few decades after her photograph inspired its creation

Doyle died of complications from arthritis in December 2010 at a Lansing hospice. She was 86 years old. Her husband, Leo, had died earlier that year. During an interview that discussed her role in creating one of the nation's most iconic images, Doyle said that she never made money off the poster, as she was too busy with her post-factory life, "changing diapers all the time." However, she was proud of her status as Rosie the Riveter. As she told a reporter for the Lansing State Journal in 2002, "You're not supposed to have too much pride, but I can't help have some in that poster."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A visit to Ugly Dog Distillery

This past Sunday, my husband Scott and I took a tour of Ugly Dog Distillery, located in Chelsea. I had bought a few tickets for the tour on the website Living Social, thinking it would be a fun way to spend an afternoon. The drive down to Chelsea was beautiful, as it was a gorgeous fall day, and we had a great time at the distillery itself (especially because we got to meet the "ugly dog" after whom the distillery was named).

That's Ruger, the "Ugly Dog," on this T-shirt.
He's really not ugly; he's a German wirehaired pointer,
and "ugly dog" is the breed's unofficial nickname.

Ugly Dog Distillery has been open about three years, and was built on a dare. One evening, founder Jon Dyer was sitting around a campfire with his friends, Ruger on his lap, when one of the group told Dyer that he should build a still and make whisky. Not one to back down from a challenge, Dyer got to work, and eventually created the business that is now Ugly Dog. The distillery is located in an unassuming storefront outside Chelsea, and produces an array of libations, including its signature product, Ugly Dog Vodka, which won a gold medal at the 2012 MicroLiquor Spirit Awards. The distillery also sells rum and gin, as well as flavored vodkas---black cherry, raspberry, whipped cream, and...bacon. Yes, you read that right. Bacon vodka. Scott and I bought a bottle to use in bloody marys, and though we haven't opened it yet, I'm pretty sure it's going to be awesome.

During our tour, director of manufacturing
Dewey Winkle described the process of making vodka.

Ugly Dog is truly a "made in Michigan" business. The company makes its vodka from Michigan grain, and Dyer himself built the stills that generate Ugly Dog's drinks. Ugly Dog staff members also fill each bottle and apply decals by hand. The results are sold in hundreds of locations around Michigan, including several Meijer and Kroger stores. Check the company's website to learn where you can find Ugly Dog, as well as for information about the spirits themselves.

And what about Ruger, the face of Ugly Dog? I LOVE dogs, so I couldn't wait to meet him. He was pretty excited about greeting all the new faces he saw in the distillery during our tour, so getting him to pose for a picture was a bit of a challenge, as evidenced by this photo:

"Let go of me, lady, I've got places to go,
people to see."

But later, during the tour, he stopped to admire my purse, so we got a better pic:
Apparently, Ruger likes Coach products---either that, or he's smelling my own dogs on it.

Ruger is a sweetheart, and everyone at the distillery was friendly and welcoming. Though the company doesn't regularly offer tours (as I mentioned, our tour was part of a Living Social deal), I highly recommend that, if you're ever in the area, you stop at Ugly Dog to purchase your poison of choice. And be sure to look for Ugly Dog products at your local store. Though I can't wait to try our bacon vodka, the whipped cream flavor was also calling my name, so I might need to hunt down that one.

Ugly Dog Distillery is located at 14495 N. Territorial Road in Chelsea. Its phone number is (734) 433-0433.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

In 1975, Kiss played at Cadillac High School's homecoming. Really.

If there wasn't photographic and written proof that the following event actually happened, I wouldn't believe it.

In the fall of 1974, Cadillac High School's Viking football team was down in the dumps. The year before, it had gone undefeated and reached the state playoffs. Now, two games into the new season, the Vikings had suffered two straight losses. Figuring that their players simply needed to "loosen up," Viking coaches played music from the rock band Kiss in the locker room. Their goal was to help the players blow off steam. It must have worked, because the team won the rest of its games---victories that it credited to the face-painted rock band.

Nothing says "football victory" like these guys.

The story could have ended there, but Kiss members heard about the credit they received for Cadillac High's winning season, and decided to thank the players and the community in person. The next school year, in October 1975, the band arrived in Cadillac for a two-day celebration during the school's homecoming week. Kiss members Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss first met with face-painted players and cheerleaders on the football field. Then they went into the high school for question-and-answer and photo sessions with students.

I'm not sure where to begin with a caption for this photo.

That night, in the school gymnasium, the band held a concert that was so loud, residents who lived two miles away could hear it.

Kiss in concert at Cadillac High School

The next morning, band members met for breakfast with Cadillac's mayor (whose face Simmons painted, Kiss-style) and members of the city council, then appeared in the high school's homecoming parade. The band ended its visit by taking off in a helicopter that had landed on Cadillac High School's football field.

The event must have been a dream come true for Cadillac High students, but it also made an impression on the band. Simmons later said the visit "was like landing on planet Kiss,” and remembered it as “a lifetime memory and a source of pride for us."

For more information:

YouTube has lots of videos about Kiss's visit to Cadillac. Here's one of them.

In 2012, news reports indicated that a movie based on Kiss's visit to Cadillac High was in the works, and was set to be filmed in Michigan. However, I haven't been able to track down any information indicating that the project proceeded beyond those initial reports. If you have an update, let me know!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bruce Catton brought the Civil War into American homes

When Bruce Catton was growing up in the Northern Michigan community of Benzonia in the early 1900s, he listened in awe as veterans told tales of Civil War combat. Like many boys his age, Catton thrilled to the sounds and images those stories conjured: the crack of gunfire, the bursts of smoke, the soldiers stalking through fields in pursuit of---or retreat from---the enemy. However, unlike most boys, Catton didn't abandon his fascination with military intrigue once he reached adulthood. Instead, he made a career of it---and became one of the nation's most celebrated historians in the process.

Bruce Catton

Catton, whose birth name was Charles Bruce, was born October 9, 1899 in Petoskey. His family later moved to Benzonia because his minister father accepted a teaching position there. Following his adolescent curiosity about the Civil War, Catton enrolled in Ohio's Oberlin College, but left to serve in the Navy during World War I. (Catton never finished his studies, but did receive an honorary degree from Oberlin in 1956.) After the war, Catton became a journalist, and married Hazel Cherry, with whom he had a son, William Bruce, in 1926.

Fifteen years later, as the United States entered World War II, Catton took a series of jobs that led to his true calling. In 1941, he became director of information for the War Production Board; later, he assumed similar positions at the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior. These jobs gave him an inside look at the war effort as it played out in Washington, D.C., and inspired his first book, "War Lords of Washington," in 1948. Though the book didn't sell many copies, Catton enjoyed writing it so much that he decided to become a full-time author and historian.

During the 1950s, many scholars wrote in a dry manner that appealed to academics, but made popular audiences yawn. Among these scholars, Catton stood out. His books had a lively tone that made them accessible to almost everyone. Catton didn't just relate a series of dates, places, and names; he told stories that brought history to life. Many of Catton's books were about his childhood obsession, the Civil War. His most famous work is probably the "Army of the Potomac" trilogy, whose third book, "A Stillness at Appomattox," won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for history. In addition, Catton wrote the "Centennial History of the Civil War," a trilogy that discussed the war's military, social, political, and economic aspects, and published a few books about Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Somehow, in between all that writing, Catton also found time to become the first editor of "American Heritage" magazine.

Catton continued writing into the 1970s. His status as one of America's most revered historians was cemented in 1977, when he received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from fellow Michigander President Gerald Ford. One year later, Catton, who lived in New York City, died at age 78 at his summer home in Frankfort, not far from Benzonia. He's buried in the Benzonia Township Cemetery, where to this day he receives visitors who come to pay their respects to a man who made the study of history not just a dry pursuit for academics, but something accessible to everyone.

For more information:

In addition to his works about the Civil War and other historical events, Catton wrote a few books about his home state. In 1972, he published "Waiting for the Morning Train," a memoir about his childhood, while in 1976, he released "Michigan: A Bicentennial History."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Woman doing it for herself: The story of Madeline La Framboise

Madeline La Framboise faced a dire situation in 1806. Her husband, Joseph, with whom she ran a fur trading business, had just been killed by a Native American customer at the La Framboises' trading post, near the present-day city of Lowell, in West Michigan. Now Madeline was a widow with two young children to support. She was also half French and half Native American---a pedigree that, combined with her sex, stacked the deck against her when it came to business success in nineteenth-century America. However, Madeline had ambition, and wasn't about to back down from a challenge. By the time she retired from the fur trading business in 1818 at the age of 38, she was making up to $10,000 a year (ten times more than her competitors). She had also cemented her status as one of Michigan's first and most successful businesswomen.

Artist's rendering of Madeline La Framboise;
no known photographs of her exist.

Madeline was born on Mackinac Island in February 1780 to a French-Canadian father and an Odawa mother. Her father died when she was just three years old, so Madeline grew up in her mother's Native American village near present-day Grand Haven. When she was about 14 years old, Madeline married a Frenchman named Joseph La Framboise, with whom she had two children, a daughter named Josette and a son named Joseph. The elder Joseph was a fur trader, and joined forces with his wife to establish the first trading post in the Grand Rapids area, as well as several other posts throughout West Michigan. Joseph and Madeline built a lucrative business, trading manufactured goods for furs that Native Americans brought to the La Framboises' posts, then selling the furs to Mackinac Island merchants. The couple did well and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle---until that fateful day in 1806 when Madeline suddenly found the company resting solely in her hands.

Madeline could have looked for another husband to take care of her and her family; instead, she took the business and ran with it. Madeline successfully managed the trading posts she and Joseph had opened, and even expanded her reach into other parts of West Michigan and Northern Michigan. She gained a reputation as an intelligent, fair trader, and communicated easily with her clients, as she spoke four languages. Her business was so strong that she eventually became a threat to the American Fur Company, which monopolized the fur trade in the United States. Reports differ as to whether she eventually sold her business to the American Fur Company, or instead merged with it, but in the end, she walked away from the transaction in 1818 with a significant amount of money. A few years later, she returned to Mackinac Island to begin her retirement.

Madeline La Framboise's house on Mackinac Island

Madeline no longer managed a network of trading posts, but her work wasn't over. She was proud of her Odawa heritage, and helped establish Mackinac Island's first school for Native American children. She was also an active member of St. Anne Catholic parish, to which she donated land for a new church with the understanding that, upon her death, she would be buried under the church's altar. Her wishes were granted; when Madeline died at age 66 on April 4, 1846, the pastor made sure she was interred under the altar she had helped build---a fitting tribute to a woman who gave so much to the island and who blazed a path for female entrepreneurs and philanthropists to come.

For more information:

Some sources cite Madeline's first name as "Magdelaine," while her gravestone uses the spelling "Magdalene." I've used "Madeline" in this post because it appears in more sources than do the other two spellings.

The historical marker for Joseph and Madeline La Framboise's trading post is located in Stoney Lakeside Park in Lowell, though no one knows where, exactly, the trading post sat. According to a 2011 article in the Grand Rapids Press, staff from the Lowell Area Historical Museum decided that the post's most likely location was on the Grand River's north bank, between Stoney Lakeside Park and Cumberland Avenue.

Madeline La Framboise's body no longer rests under the altar at St. Anne. The church and its grounds underwent renovation in the 1990s, and Madeline's remains were moved to a garden in the churchyard.

Madeline's house on Mackinac Island still stands, and is now the Harbour View Inn (photo below), located just down the road from St. Anne Church on Main Street.
And now, a completely random fact: "Framboise" means "raspberry" in French.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Detroit and the last days of Harry Houdini

When Harry Houdini stepped onto the stage in Detroit's Garrick Theatre on October 24, 1926, he was about to begin the last performance of his career---and his life.

Harry Houdini

Two days earlier, the famed magician and escape artist had been reclining in his dressing room before a show in Montreal when a college student named J. Gordon Whitehead knocked on the door. Houdini frequently told fans that he could withstand any punch, and Whitehead asked if the boast was true. Houdini said it was, and gave Whitehead permission to throw a few jabs. However, Whitehead started hitting while Houdini was still lying down; the magician didn't have time to tense his stomach, so the punches inflicted more damage than Houdini expected. In pain, the magician motioned Whitehead to stop. Houdini managed to complete his performance, but he was in extreme physical distress as he headed toward his next destination---Detroit.

The Garrick Theatre in Detroit, site of Houdini's last performance

By the time Houdini and his crew arrived in the Motor City, he was running a fever of 102 degrees and suffering from appendicitis. He refused surgery, though, and showed up for his performance at the Garrick Theatre. By that time, Houdini's temperature had reached 104 degrees, and he passed out while performing his act. Eventually, Houdini acknowledged that he needed medical attention, and was rushed to Detroit's Grace Hospital, where doctors discovered that he had peritonitis (an inflammation of abdominal tissue), likely caused by a ruptured appendix. Though Houdini held out hope that he would recover, his injuries eventually got the best of him, and he died at 1:26 p.m. on October 31. He was 52 years old. His body was taken to Queens, New York, where he was buried in Machpelah Cemetery.

Detroit's Grace Hospital, where Houdini died

For years afterward, Houdini's wife, Bess, held seances on Halloween in an attempt to contact her husband. Perhaps not surprisingly, especially given the fact that, in life, Houdini had insisted spiritualism was a fraud, she had no luck. To this day, fans of the paranormal gather every Halloween to commune with Houdini's spirit. So far, he hasn't shown up.

For more information:

Houdini started life as Erik Weisz, and immigrated to the United States from Hungary when he was four years old. He adopted the name "Harry Houdini" in homage to two of his heroes: an American magician named Harry Kellar, and a French magician named Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Houdini was best known for his daring escapes from sticky situations. One of his standards was the "Chinese Water Torture Cell" trick in which his feet were locked in stocks and he was immersed upside-down in a glass container filled with water. A curtain prevented panicked audiences from seeing his struggle to escape, but escape he did, every time.

The Garrick Theatre no longer stands, but was located on Griswold Street, near the current site of the David Stott Building. Likewise, Grace Hospital, where Houdini died, is no longer part of the Detroit landscape, having been demolished in 1979.

Whatever happened to J. Gordon Whitehead, the man who inadvertently caused Houdini's death? After the incident, Whitehead dropped out of college and became a recluse, eventually dying of malnutrition in 1954. He's buried in an unmarked grave in a Montreal cemetery. Some conspiracy theorists insist Whitehead was hired to kill or injure Houdini by the spiritualists whom Houdini had debunked, but no proof exists that this was the case.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

An interview with Steve Lehto, author of "Death's Door"

Yesterday, I wrote about the Italian Hall tragedy, which took the lives of 73 people during a contentious copper mining strike in 1913 ("The tragedy at Italian Hall"). Today's post features an interview with attorney and author Steve Lehto, whose book, "Death's Door: The Truth Behind the Italian Hall Disaster and the Strike of 1913," explores the incident, as well as the labor strife that led up to it. The book is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. (UPDATE: "Death's Door" is now in its second edition, which includes the text of the first edition, as well as text from one of Lehto's previous books, "Shortcut: The Seeberville Murders and the Dark Side of the American Dream." Both "Shortcut" and the first edition of "Death's Door" are out of print, but you can find their content in the second edition of "Death's Door," which I've linked to above.) 

Here's what Lehto had to say about "Death's Door," the tragedy, and the strong emotions his work elicits from readers.

Steve Lehto

What piqued your interest in the Italian Hall disaster? Why did you decide to write about it?
"The Italian Hall disaster had 73 known victims. Of those, 59 were Finnish. My family is Finnish and in the Finnish community, this event is well-known. I liken it to being our 'Titanic.' Everyone knows about it and it is revered. I had always heard about it growing up but did not know much more than the thumbnail sketch of it. After I got a degree in history and my law degree, I decided to research it and see what we could figure out today after looking at the evidence."

As you conducted your research, what did you find that historians were saying about the incident? Did that differ from what you discovered during your own research process?
"Many historians had embraced the 'newspaper' version of the event without taking into account that the local papers were biased heavily in favor of the mines and mine management. As a result, their narratives were essentially, 'This was an unsolvable accident, for which no one was to blame.' It was not the truth. Several of the best-known histories of the event have whole sections of endnotes which are nothing but references to newspapers with names like 'The Daily Mining Gazette.' Guess whose side they were on?
"I went back and looked at primary sources and found a lot of legal documentation. Much of it had not been seen before and what had been seen had been misunderstood. People without legal training can miss things. For example, I found a good copy of the coroner’s inquest transcript. I immediately noticed that they did not provide translators for any of the witnesses and made them answer questions in English---even when they spoke little English! (And other inquests from this time used them.) This kind of thing is hugely important but was overlooked by everyone.
"Strangely, there are historians who still embrace the 'newspaper' version of events. I’m not sure why they do it. I guess the research is really easy, since all you have to do is read the old newspapers. I admit I find it fun to read old newspapers, but I think historians should recognize that newspapers are often horribly unreliable and biased."

What were some of the most interesting or significant things you learned while researching the book?
"That many of the stories being told about the hall were fictional. People often said the tragedy was caused by doors that opened 'the wrong way.' This was even put on the historical marker at the site. I found photos that proved the doors opened correctly. Even so, it took over five years to get the marker changed. (It was changed this past June, using language I drafted.)
"I was surprised by how the government was run by big business back then. The people who ran the mines ran the government and could get almost anything done that they wanted. When crimes were committed, they could assure that no one would be prosecuted---most of the time---and they were the ones who saw to it that no one was ever prosecuted for the Italian Hall disaster. This was corruption pure and simple. I know that corruption has always existed, but it was just at such a level that I found it startling."
How did the Italian Hall disaster affect the community of Calumet, both in the short and long term?
"The Italian Hall disaster happened in the middle of a very divisive strike. The disaster caused the divide to be even more pronounced, and that divide remains today, almost 100 years later. I still meet people who are so inclined toward one side or the other they don’t even want to examine the evidence."

When your book was published, what types of responses did you get from readers, especially those in Calumet?
"I met a lot of people who were happy the story had been written, but also heard from people who were upset by it. I have even gotten death threats from people who say that I should have left the story alone. I was surprised, to say the least, by the overreaction. There are also a couple of people in the UP who show up at my talks and yell at me. Literally yell at me. One of them had to be hauled out by security. I had to threaten another with a restraining order. This event can apparently still generate some strong emotions in people."

What’s next for you?
"I am consulting on a documentary which will air [nationally] on PBS in December (the 17th at 8:00 p.m.) about the Italian Hall. It is called 'Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913.' I am hopeful it will bring the story to a broader audience. This story is not known as well outside of Michigan just yet. I am also writing a few books, including one on Preston Tucker, which should come out next year. [Ed. Note: Preston Tucker was a Michigan native who designed and engineered many well-known cars, including the 1948 Tucker Sedan, during the mid-20th century.]

In keeping with this blog’s “Michigan” theme, I always ask this question: What is your favorite thing to do, or favorite place to go, in Michigan?
"I have several but I guess if you had to pick one based on how often I find myself drawn there, it is the top of Brockway Mountain Drive, just outside of Copper Harbor. I go there several times each year."
#   #   #

For more information:
Lehto has written several other books, including several Michigan-themed titles. Check out his Amazon author page to see what else he's written.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The tragedy at Italian Hall

Several hundred people gathered in Calumet's Italian Hall on December 24, 1913. Their goal? To celebrate the Christmas season and get their minds off the mining strike that had crippled the community for the past five months. The celebrants were the miners themselves, as well as their wives and children---families who had struggled to make ends meet long before the strike that sought better wages, hours, and working conditions for the region's copper miners. Guests milled about the Italian Hall's second floor, enjoying refreshments, listening to piano music, and visiting Santa, who handed out small gifts that thrilled children already used to deprivation in their short lives.

1913 photo of Italian Hall, located in the
Houghton County village of Calumet

Suddenly, a man called out a single word: "Fire!" At first, no one paid much attention, but the calls continued, growing in urgency: "Fire! Fire!" There was no sign of a blaze, no acrid smell of smoke, but in the confusion, crowd members panicked and rushed toward a stairwell that led to the front door. As the first guests hurried down the narrow passageway, dozens, then hundreds, of people clamored after them. The force of all those bodies sent the first guests to the floor. The people behind them stumbled, and soon, the staircase was full of bodies, one on top of another, trying desperately to escape, but slowly suffocating in the cramped space. By the time rescue workers cleared the staircase, 73 people had died, 59 of them children.

The Italian Hall's second floor, the day after the tragedy

In the following days, as community members laid to rest their deceased family and friends, questions abounded. Who had raised the false alarm of "fire"? Why had he done it, and was he in any way connected to the mining companies---especially Calumet and Hecla, the area's largest copper mining operation? The Christmas party had been sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners, the union to which many of the region's miners belonged, and witnesses reported that the man who yelled, "fire" had worn a button identifying him as a member of an anti-union group known as the Citizens' Alliance. Was some sort of pro-management conspiracy behind the tragedy that took the lives of 59 children?

Funeral procession for the victims of the Italian Hall tragedy

(Note: That question has never been definitively answered, though theories abound as to the mystery man's identity. Tomorrow, I'll post an interview with Steve Lehto, author of "Death's Door: The Truth Behind the Italian Hall Disaster and the Strike of 1913," a book about the Italian Hall tragedy that reveals the identity of the man Lehto believes gave the false alarm. If you're interested in reading or purchasing this book, make sure you get the second edition [to which I've linked], as the first edition doesn't contain this information.)

The strike ended in April 1914, and the results were mixed for the miners. They could not bargain collectively, nor could they stop using potentially dangerous tools like the one-man drill. However, many miners returned to find that they now had eight-hour workdays, and would eventually receive higher wages. In the following years, federal labor laws, as well as the increasing power of unions, achieved even more gains.

All this was likely little comfort to those who lost people they loved in the Italian Hall that fateful Christmas Eve in 1913. The hall was eventually torn down, though its front archway remains, and now stands in a park maintained by the Keweenaw National Historical Park.

Italian Hall arch

For more information:

Folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the Italian Hall tragedy. It's called "1913 Massacre." Here's a clip:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The mysterious painter of the Capitol muses

For about 125 years, eight painted figures have stared down at visitors from inside the state Capitol dome; for most of those years, no one knew exactly who had painted them. The figures, known as the muses, each represent a different means (i.e., agriculture, art, astronomy/science, commerce, education, industry, justice, and law) through which Michigan citizens can prosper and brighten the state's future.

A few of the Capitol dome's muses
The paintings are absolutely gorgeous, and for years, historians believed they might have been the work of Lewis Ives, an artist who has other pieces in the Capitol. Then, in 1992, a visitor named Geoffrey Drutchas entered the building, looking for works by a nineteenth-century Italian artist. Drutchas's inquiry led to an investigation that ultimately revealed the paintings' true creator. But more on that later; first, a quick background on how the muses became a part of the Capitol in the first place.

The current state Capitol opened in 1879. For the first few years of its existence, the Capitol's walls were bare, as the state couldn't spare any money for artwork. Eventually, the state had extra cash, so the legislature commissioned William Wright, owner of a Detroit decorating company, to handle interior design duties. The Capitol's architect, Elijah Myers, said that he wanted allegorical paintings (in other words, paintings whose subjects look like one thing, but represent something else) to appear above the Capitol rotunda. That's how the Capitol ended up with its muses. At first glance, the women in the paintings that Wright delivered to the Capitol are simply figures from Greek mythology; however, if a viewer looks at the paintings closely, he or she finds that each muse holds or is surrounded by items that represent a specific aspect of Michigan's economy and culture.

Wright never revealed who created the paintings, and as years passed, their origin became even more mysterious. The paintings had been signed with a symbol that looked like a stick figure, and no one at the Capitol knew what---or who---the symbol represented.

Symbol on the Capitol's muse paintings

Then Drutchas entered the picture. (No pun intended.) The Taylor resident was a fan of nineteenth-century Italian painter Tommaso Juglaris, who had lived in Boston during the late 1800s. Drutchas read that some of Juglaris's work was in the Michigan State Capitol, so he took a trip to Lansing. His query raised a few eyebrows, as staffers had never heard Juglaris's name attached to the muses. However, after some research (including a trip to Italy that Drutchas took in 2000, during which he found the stick figure on paintings that Juglaris was known to have painted), as well as the 2003 discovery of sketches that Juglaris had made of four of the muses, Capitol staff could officially state that Tommaso Juglaris had painted the dome's artwork. (FYI, the "stick figure" signature is actually a combination of Juglaris's first and last initials.)

Tommaso Juglaris

How did Juglaris's work go undetected for so long? At the time he painted the Capitol muses, only American citizens could work on public buildings and projects. Though Juglaris lived in Boston, he was an Italian citizen, so his work for the state Capitol was a no-no. Wright, who had commissioned the paintings from Juglaris, got around that fact simply by stating that the paintings came from his company; consequently, while Juglaris got paid for his work, he didn't get official credit---at least not until over 125 years later, when a visitor's curiosity wrote a chapter for Juglaris in the Capitol history books.