X-Mas in Detroit

Posted by jdg | 11:03 AM


1987 t-shirt sold at "Cinderella's Attic," in Royal Oak, Michigan. Designed by Kenny Thrush of Hamtramck and printed at Total-T's in Sterling Heights. [Detroit News Photo]

I sort of love this.

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This blog is intended solely to share the things I come across that inspire me. If I have posted a copyrighted image, I have only done so to the extent necessary to comment upon or discuss it; I will always include a link to the original source of the image if that source is online or acknowledge the source if it is in print. If I have reproduced anything of yours here that is copyrighted and you want me to remove it, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do so right away.

I've wanted to share these amazing old 1920s photos of Santa looming (and in the second case, hanging out) over the 1920s Detroit skyline since I first found them last February. I hope you agree it's been worth the wait.



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This blog is intended solely to share the things I come across that inspire me. If I have posted a copyrighted image, I have only done so to the extent necessary to comment upon or discuss it; I will always include a link to the original source of the image if that source is online or acknowledge the source if it is in print. If I have reproduced anything of yours here that is copyrighted and you want me to remove it, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do so right away.

I had the good fortune last week to attend a book reading/signing at Leopold's Books for two Detroit bloggers who've recently had books published. I'd already purchased and read Amy Elliot Bragg's Hidden History of Detroit. Amy is the blogger behind a site I've championed in the past (Night Train Detroit), and she's published a great book of just the sort of anecdotes she's given us on her site (but with much more research and detail). Like Amy, I'm a big fan of early Detroit history books, but I have to say her book is infinitely more readable to a modern audience. It would be a great gift for anyone anywhere interested in Detroit's pre-automotive history.



I was also really excited to finally meet John Carlisle, the man behind the semi-anonymous Detroitblog for the last 5+ years. John's blog morphed into something truly spectacular a few years ago when it started focusing entirely on the personalities and achievements of what John calls "normal Detroiters" (who are mostly anything but normal). John's stories of people in Detroit collected in his new book 313: Life in the Motor City are the closest thing I've seen to a true antidote to all the ruin porn we've seen (and created). John's perspective is that of a classic optimist. As he noted at the reading, even if you hear that half the population left, that means half the population is still there. If 30% are unemployed, that means 70% are still gainfully employed. Even if thousands of Detroiters are criminals, there are hundreds of thousands who aren't. John's book is an effort to tell the stories of those who don't make the 6 o'clock news or the pages of the mainstream press. It also has tons of great photographs that John takes during his interviews. It would make a great gift for anyone who's interested in contemporary Detroit.


Both books are available at Leopold's in Detroit, as well as from the publisher here. And while you're at it, pick up Dan Austin and Sean Doerr's History Press bestseller Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the City’s Majestic Ruins.



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This blog is intended solely to share the things I come across that inspire me. If I have posted a copyrighted image, I have only done so to the extent necessary to comment upon or discuss it; I will always include a link to the original source of the image if that source is online or acknowledge the source if it is in print. If I have reproduced anything of yours here that is copyrighted and you want me to remove it, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do so right away.


Opened in 1887, R. Hirt Jr. closed its doors for the last time on November 19, 2011. After weathering decades of Detroit's economic upheaval to see a resurgence of life in Eastern Market, the beloved institution was finally undone by family squabbling. I don't know the details, but press releases from both indicate that one descendent of the original Hirt family owns the building and another runs the business. The building owner did not allow the store owner to renew the lease, and intends to open a new cheese store in the building under a different name. The R. Hirt Jr. Company will live on through wholesale operations at another space in the market, but the retail store's inventory was liquidated in its final days and the store's employees were given pink slips after more than 200 years of total service.

I originally profiled this store in great detail here, so that's a good place to start for the store's history and see how it looked when fully stocked.

During the final days of business for R. Hirt Jr., I was given unfettered access to document the physical space and original signage before it is (presumably) removed. When a store has been in continuous operation under the same name in the same location for 118 years, there is an incredible sense of history around every corner and a rich patina on the floors, walls, and fixtures. Needless to say, I've never shopped anywhere like this store, and our family has shopped there weekly since we moved to Detroit and we have cherished how most things there were still done the old-fashioned way. I was once again allowed into the old apartment where the Hirt family raised seven children above the store, where the original yellowed wallpaper and tin ceiling remain intact.

With the future of these spaces unknown and all this original culture of the store intact, I did my best to document as much of it as I could before the store closed last Saturday:


 

Thank you Judy (26 years), Jan (26 years), Ruth (15 years), Tony (5 years), Louie (33 years), Mary (20-something years), Cheryl (24 years), Andy (11 years), and Dana (who wouldn't tell me how long, but did let me take her picture) for all the cheese, and for giving my kids the memories of a store they'll be able to tell their grandchildren about.





This blog is intended solely to share the things I come across that inspire me. If I have posted a copyrighted image, I have only done so to the extent necessary to comment upon or discuss it; I will always include a link to the original source of the image if that source is online or acknowledge the source if it is in print. If I have reproduced anything of yours here that is copyrighted and you want me to remove it, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do so right away.


Now that our daughter is six and fully-immersed in the world of chapter books that we read to her each night, I am beginning to miss reading her picture books, while cherishing the time I still have left with my son to enjoy picture books. My taste in picture book definitely tends towards the vintage and obscure, but occasionally we come across a new one that I really love. I found Singing Away the Dark at Green Apple Books in San Francisco last spring, and became enamored with Julie Morstad's depiction of the six-year old main character. I looked up Ms. Morstad and she became one of our favorite illustrators.

This book is the story of a girl who has to walk quite a ways to the school bus stop each day (through the snow) and she must leave before the sun rises. She sings to herself to keep away the shadows, meeting all kinds of little animals on the way. As we approach Winter here in Michigan, I expect we'll read this one quite a bit. I recommend it; as you can see the following pictures (all from the promotional materials online), it really is a stunning book.



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This blog is intended solely to share the things I come across that inspire me. If I have posted a copyrighted image, I have only done so to the extent necessary to comment upon or discuss it; I will always include a link to the original source of the image if that source is online or acknowledge the source if it is in print. If I have reproduced anything of yours here that is copyrighted and you want me to remove it, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do so right away.


I recently found this snapshot of the defending champion 1991 Detroit Police Department tug-of-war team opening the Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival with a tug-of-war match-up against a team in Windsor. That's right: that rope is stretching across the Detroit River and the other end is presumably held by mounties. In uniform. Because picturing these incredibly muscular fellows battling uniformed mounties in an international tug-of-war competition where the losers topple into one of the world's busiest shipping lanes is something that will brighten this day and many more to come.

I wonder if there are any ringers in that lineup, because I don't know if a standard-issue police uniform would actually fit over those guns. I'm talking about you, Patriotic Headband and guy behind you. I know you want to believe that some shiny mountie boots ended up in the water that day, but sadly in 1991 Canada prevailed for the first time and pulled that 1,000-foot rope across the river the fastest.

Apparently there is a long, proud history of the Detroit Police Department tug-of-war team. Here is a team photo I found online:


Here is a blurb about the team from the August 30, 1954 issue of Sports Illustrated (back when SI covered topics like municipal police force tug-of-war competitions). 

"TUG OF WAR pit two tons of the Detroit Police Dept. at the opposite ends of a rope at the University of Detroit Stadium to warm up for their part in the 28th annual Detroit vs. Toronto police track and field games. Average weight of the 17 patrolmen practicing above is 260 pounds, not counting Coach Norman McCorry (center), no lightweight himself. During the actual meet, a few days after this picture was taken, close to a ton (seven) of the husky Detroiters heaved slightly to tug Toronto police off their feet in two tests. The first required 19 seconds, the second 21.1 seconds. It was the 14th time in 14 years that Detroit has won the annual tug of war. Some 14,000 spectators watched the event.
14,000 people went to watch a tug-of-war match against the mounties in 1954? That's basically how many people file into the Rogers Centre on an average night to watch the Blue Jays. Look at these crowds:


And this Jam Handy video has some archival footage of a team from that era in action.



Maybe the winners got to play back-alley bocce ball with Miss Toronto?


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This blog is intended solely to share the things I come across that inspire me. If I have posted a copyrighted image, I have only done so to the extent necessary to comment upon or discuss it; I will always include a link to the original source of the image if that source is online or acknowledge the source if it is in print. If I have reproduced anything of yours here that is copyrighted and you want me to remove it, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do so right away.