Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Happy Birthday, Michigander! Today's celebrant: Dean Cain

Every once in a while, I'll post facts about famous Michiganders on their birthdays. Today's inaugural celebrant is the 1990s televised version of Superman, Dean Cain, who was born July 31, 1966 in Mount Clemens.

The Man of Steel, born in the state that, uh, uses steel to, um, make cars...okay, this is a horrible analogy

Here we go:

1. Cain's birth name is Dean George Tanaka. His parents later divorced, and he was adopted by his mother's new husband, Christopher Cain.

2. His stepfather is a film director who helmed the movie "Young Guns" as well as "The Next Karate Kid" (the one with Hillary Swank).

3. Cain moved with his family to Malibu when he was three years old (so he's no longer a Michigan resident, but we won't hold that against him).

4. He attended Princeton, and dated Brooke Shields.

5. He was a free agent with the Buffalo Bills, but injured himself during training camp, effectively ending his football career.

6. One of Cain's early acting roles was "Guy in Doritos Ad Who Likes Cheese." Check it out, around 17 seconds in. (I apologize for all the Jay Leno you'll see in this commercial):

7. Cain's latest gig will be his turn as host of Spike TV's "10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty," in which teams of big game hunters compete against each other to locate the mythical beast. The show will debut in January 2014.

I don't think I can top that last one, so I'll stop while I'm ahead. Happy 47th, Dean! We're proud to call you a Michigander!

Michigan's oldest covered bridge destroyed by arson

This post comes a few days after the fact, but authorities have confirmed that White's Bridge, a covered bridge located in Smyrna, and spanning the Flat River between Belding and Lowell in Ionia County, fell victim to arson. The bridge was Michigan's oldest covered bridge still in use, and its destruction devastated community members, many of whom said it was a memorable and beloved part of their childhoods. White's Bridge went up in flames in the early hours of July 7. Police officials are now confirming that an accelerant was found on evidence taken from the bridge's wreckage, leading them to determine the fire was intentionally set.

I don't think I've ever crossed the bridge, or even seen it, but this story breaks my heart. The bridge was built by hand (and by ox and horse) in 1867, and was named for a prominent local family. In the years since, it survived a variety of mishaps, including damage inflicted by a drunk driver in 2010. Throughout it all, White's Bridge maintained its status as a community landmark and point of pride, at least until the morning of July 7.

I have many things I'd like to call the person or people who decided to burn down the bridge, but I don't want to waste any mental energy on them. What makes me truly sad is the fact that, when so many things in our society are impermanent, we can't rely on our fellow citizens to respect the things that ARE permanent, the things that have withstood almost 150 years of changes and seasons and events that we humans can only read about in history books. It makes me sad to think of the men who built this bridge, their painstaking handiwork long usurped by modern technology, and now destroyed by the dash of an accelerant and the flick of a match. I love this state, I love the people who have lived (and are living) in it, and it saddens me that the blood, sweat, and memories of the thousands of people who have a connection to this bridge were destroyed by the selfish actions of a few.

An effort is under way to rebuild White's Bridge, and though no structure can replace the historic original, I take some comfort in the fact that the effort's organizers are making history of their own. Maybe in another 150 years, the "new" White's Bridge will be the source of as much reverence and community pride as was the old one.

More information:

White's Bridge Restoration

White's Bridge History

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The true story of the Paulding Light

Since I was a kid, I wanted to check out the Paulding Light, an eerie orb that glows in a valley outside Paulding, in the western Upper Peninsula. The light is supposed to be swamp gas, or some kind of geological phenomenon, or the ghost of a railroad brakeman, or the ghost of a mail carrier, or the ghost of a Native American, or....well, you get the drift. Suffice it to say that no one could really agree on what it was, but everyone could agree that it was spooky.

However, it looks like the Paulding Light is nothing more than...drumroll headlights. Check out this video recorded by students from Michigan Technological University, who investigated the phenomenon. (The first video on the website shows the light, the second video shows the students' investigation.)

Paulding Light Videos

They do a pretty good job of debunking the myths, and establishing that the lights are, in fact, car headlights shining through the night from US-45.

Kind of a no-brainer, but also kind of a bummer. I didn't really believe the Paulding Light was the ghost of some unfortunate soul, but it's always fun to let one percent of your brain believe these kinds of things.

Another website on the Paulding Light, this one less skeptical:

The Paulding Light

Survivor of 1927 Bath School Disaster dies at age 100

One of the last survivors of the Bath Consolidated School bombing, America's worst school-related mass murder, died July 18 at the age of 100.

Bath bombing survivor, 100, dies

Merrien Josephine Cushman wasn't at the school the morning of May 18, 1927, as her grades were high enough that she had earned time off from classes that day. However, her younger brother, Ralph, showed up as usual, and lost his life in the tragedy that killed 45 people (mostly children) and injured at least 58 others. The mass murder was the work of a deranged Bath resident, Andrew Kehoe, who bombed the school over slights he believed he had suffered at the hands of fellow community members.

Kehoe had moved to Bath, about ten miles north of Lansing, in 1919, and quickly became a thorn in the side of local leaders. He was an intelligent man, but impatient and frugal. One source of his ire was the Bath Consolidated School building, which the community built so that all the district's students could attend a single school, rather than divide themselves among the one-room schoolhouses they had previously attended. Kehoe railed against the higher taxes the consolidated school required, but construction proceeded regardless, and the school opened in 1922.

Bath Consolidated School
Kehoe eventually served as treasurer of the Consolidated School board, where his combative personality and penny-pinching ways made him a difficult person with whom to work. During this time, Kehoe suffered a series of financial and emotional setbacks; his wife was sick with tuberculosis, he couldn't pay his bills, and, in 1926, his mortgage company announced the start of foreclosure proceedings on his farm. Many students of the disaster believe Kehoe's "last straw" was the fact that he lost a race for town clerk in 1926; it was after this supposed slight that he developed his plans to bomb the school.

Kehoe began stockpiling explosives, which he planted in the school's basement under the guise that he was working on its lighting system. On May 18, 1927, a few days shy of graduation, Kehoe set his plan in motion. Sometime in the days before the bombing, he had killed his wife, Nellie. Around 8:45 a.m. on the 18th, Kehoe set off firebombs he had wired throughout his farm. (Nellie's body would later be found there, in the charred remains of a chicken coop.) At almost the same time, an alarm clock, set by Kehoe, detonated the explosives he had planted under the school. The school's north wing collapsed into a heap of rubble, taking its young occupants and their teachers with it.

View of the Bath Consolidated School, after the bombing

Kehoe's deadly work wasn't done. As volunteers rushed between his farm and the school, trying to save whoever they could, Kehoe drove his truck, loaded with explosives and metal shrapnel, into town, and parked it near the school. He called to Superintendent Emory Huyck, with whom Kehoe had a fractious relationship, and Huyck approached the truck. A witness later testified that he saw Kehoe and Huyck grapple over a gun that Kehoe had brought with him. Suddenly, the truck exploded, killing both Kehoe and Huyck, as well as three other people (including an eight-year-old boy). The blast injured several others.

By the time Kehoe was done wreaking his vengeance, 45 people (including Kehoe and his wife) had died, and 58 had been injured. More would surely have died save for the fact that the explosives Kehoe wired under the school's south wing did not detonate, possibly because of a short circuit caused by the first explosion.

While Bath struggled to recover, donations poured in from across the nation, including $75,000 from James J. Couzens, Michigan's U.S. Senator. In 1928, the new James Couzens Agricultural School opened on the site of the consolidated school building, and served students until its demolition in 1975. The site now contains a memorial park, the centerpiece of which is a cupola that survived the school bombing and that pays tribute to those who lost their lives on one of the deadliest days in Michigan history.

To read more:

Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing, by Arnie Bernstein

The Bath School Disaster, by M.J. Ellsworth

Mayday: History of a Village Holocaust, by Grant Parker

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Welcome to Michigan 101! I love everything about this state...its history, its people, its natural attractions, its animals...and I'm using this blog as a way of celebrating it all. Michigan 101 will contain stories about events and people in Michigan, past and present. Think of it as a "crash course" in all the things that make this state unique. We'll cover it all...the bad, the good (mostly the good), the strange, and the silly. Use this website to find cool places to visit, informative books to read, or simply amazing stories from the Great Lakes State. Thanks for visiting, and stop by often!