BEGINNINGS OF A TRADITION: THE DETROIT CITY CHRISTMAS TREE
Oscar Marx was born on July 14, 1866 in Detroit. His parents, Stephen Marx and wife Eleanor [Busch] were German immigrants turned dairy farmers living on the cusp of Hamtramck Twp. and Detroit.
The hard work and discipline of his farm based upbringing along with a touch of seminary school gave Marx the determination needed to become a successful civic leader and Detroit businessman. Continue reading “PARK 81 – OSCAR B. MARX”
It’s Memorial Day 2016. Reflection and BBQ’s. I see a lot of memes asking to remember “this day isn’t about the BBQ”. If you think about it, a lot of personal history gets discussed and shared over food, so maybe it does go hand-in-hand. We’ve covered a lot of veteran’s stories thus far in this blog. This post hits a few categories:
Gone – a park that was decommissioned or no longer exists
Survivor – someone who received a namesake park / playground while living
Back in the day, the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department had a somewhat staunch rule about naming parks. Specifically they were named for those persons who had died; persons who contributed significantly to the City of Detroit and/or highly decorated war veterans. Exceptions were sometimes made. There are only a handful of parks where the person was living when they ‘received’ their honorary park. Joseph Pagel falls into this category. Lyle Maxton Skinner, John Yaksich, Robert Simanek and Leroy Messmer were other veterans with this honor as well as a few non-veterans. Continue reading “Park 78”
As a youth, Bill Messmer [1903-1973] found his love of music while attending Detroit’s Eastern High School. Musically gifted, he directed and organized a 16 piece orchestra as a teen. His mother recollected how Bill would purchase his sheet music at the Jerome H. Remick music ‘house’ in Detroit. One day, she ran the errand of picking up his sheet music and had an encounter with the famous composerRichard Whiting, [nice story at that link] who managed the desk as a fledgling composer. Continue reading “US Navy Rear Admiral William Leroy Messmer – Park 77”
Here’s one from the gone file. It’s a bit long so here’s a summary.. This corner playground disappeared in 2015. It received little public use and was sold to the business next door. It is the former site of Detroit’s Polish Seminary founded by Father Dabrowski. The seminary moved out of Detroit in the early years of the 1900’s. Father Dabrowski finished this school to help educate the immigrants of this once heavily populated Polish neighborhood.
In 2015, Mayor Duggan announced a new development of an urban agricultural area named Recovery Park and a reuse of the Chene-Ferry outdoor market just north of St. Aubin and Forest. The aim is to create job opportunities for those Detroiters working to recoup their lives after addiction and other personal struggles. In a way, the spirit of Jozef [Joseph] Dabrowski is resurrected offering opportunity to those most in need. No eye rolling, good to be hopeful. 🙂 Thanks for reading. ag
Former location: St. Aubin and Forest
POLISH PATRIOT, DETERMINED PRIEST
Jozef (Joseph) Dabrowski [1842-1903] was born in Zoltance, Poland into a wealthy family. As a 12 year old, he assumed much of the familial responsibility when his father passed away.
Interested in math and science, he enrolled in Warsaw University on scholarships only to be sidelined by joining the failed Polish Revolt of 1863, an uprising against Russian rule over Poland. Afterward, he heard the call of piety and Dabrowski headed for religious life in Rome. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1869.
Stockton playground location: Dwight, Parkview, Detroit River
~ Thanks to Sandy L. and especially Linda G. who generously opened their digital family photo album. You meet the kindest-hearted, left handed folks through genealogy. andreag
Local Yokel, Business Man, Soldier
This is a story of a life interrupted.
David Frederick Stockton [1911-1944] became a Detroiter via the hills of Cookeville, TN. His story is short and like many men who served in WWII, David’s life ended in an act of courage. He was the only son of Houston Albert Stockton and Daisy Pearl Kinnaird. Love those southern names. The Stockton’s left the family cow in Tennessee and headed to Michigan in the 1920’s. [Sorry I didn’t get the cow picture.. but it exists]. They landed in Gratiot Township which would later become Harper Woods. Both father and son worked at US Rubber in the tire factory; Houston as a rubber former, David as a ‘box man’.
Here’s one from the GONE file.. Fred Nagle’s life and efforts stretched to many parts of Detroit – a boyhood home on High Street in Corktown; residence in the Madison – Lenox hotel; a boy’s club off Fenkell Avenue and a long gone rec center and playground in the Elmwood neighborhood – all of those haunts are gone. The only thing left to his Detroit legacy is his burial marker in Mount Olivet Cemetery. When I find it.. I will post a photo.
INVESTED IN DETROIT
Location: Gone – Rec Center and playground formerly at Congress and Larned; Boys Boxing Club north of Focus Hope.
Fred George Nagle [1885- 1954] was a lifelong Detroiter and Corktown native who graced the halls of the Trinity School and Detroit College [now University of Detroit]. Nagel crafted a successful 25+ year real estate career with an office located in the Penobscot Building. He managed his cadre of rentals, business locations and developed local strip shopping malls in the 1950’s. The confirmed bachelor lived with his two sisters in the long gone Madison – Lenox Hotel off Harmonie Park.
I have said it before and I’ve got to say it again.. I meet the kindest people when writing and researching these stories. When details are scant; I go looking for folks.
This time I found the Atwell family who are direct relations of Lorwyn Peterson. It was a great pleasure to meet you personally!!
Thanks again for the tidbits of information and the use of the photos.
Truly – ag
PS. We will get to Fred Nagle next..
PETE IN CHARGE
Location: Pickford, Curtis and Greenfield
Lorwyn Elwyn Peterson (1908-1945) graduated from Michigan State College in 1930 with a degree in Business Administration. The son of Elwyn and Marie, he was raised in Brooklyn, a small town located in the Irish Hills area of Michigan.
Peterson enlisted for duty in World War II and rose rank to Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the 716th Tank Battalion, 43rd Infantry Armored Division. Peterson’s relatives tell us he was to be made a full Colonel, however preferred to stay on with the men he trained for duty. Continue reading “Lt. Colonel Lorwyn E. Peterson – Park #73”
Hey – We’re gonna talk about the Nagels and the Nagles.. John and Fred. Similar pronunciation, same civic mindedness, totally different guys. Here’s the first installment. Thanks for reading. ag
In his obituary, John Conrad Nagel [1866 – 1935] was described as one of the most colorful members of Detroit politics. Born in September 1866 in Cleveland, Ohio. Travels in his younger days were along the Mississippi River for six years laboring as a cabin boy on tugs and ships. Nagel weathered storms and waited hand and foot on ship’s captains. He landed in Pensacola, Florida, became a blacksmith and migrated north to Detroit in 1892.Continue reading “John C. Nagel – Park 72”
In the past I’ve noticed photos of this paved area on Detroit centric sites with no explanation. It looked odd. I never knew the location so I just filed it away in my brain with the rest of the clutter. Recently, through an incident of like mindedness, a fine Detroit artist and photographer asked me to find the background on this “Mayan Temple” play area.
Mystery solved. It’s a fancy schmancy Richard Dattner Adventure Playground and the remnants of a hopeful past.
THE GREAT SOCIETY AND WAR ON POVERTY
*Please note this is a condensed Campbell style soup gloss over of this federal program.*
Back in the late 60’s through 1974, Detroit and Highland Park were participants in President Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Model Cities’ program which aimed to eliminate poverty and curb violence; create alternative municipalities and strong urban black leaders. With a Nixon era shift in politics, it morphed into a program of urban housing and development. Detroit led the way; Highland Park got in for the ride in June 1969. Both municipalities received a bunch of federal money and tried to create a model city within itself. Highland Park received high fives in local papers for good project management. Detroit received acclaim for participation; overall the Model Cities program was considered a large failure.Continue reading “THE MAYA TEMPLE PLAYGROUND – Park #71”
The first thing I ever read about Walter Sak Playground was in a city report stating it was “a forlorn park in a forlorn neighborhood”. Little evidence of a playground remained when I first rolled by. The surrounding neighborhood was a mixed bag of hope and blight with some new construction and steadfast neighbors just trying to keep it all together.
— A while back, I helped to clean up Boyer playground with a group of volunteers. I met Kim Littlejohn that day and I told her I would find out for whom Boyer Park was named. It took a long while to find the story, but here it is Kim. Sorry no photo of Tom Boyer could be found.. maybe one will appear soon. Super good link about the long gone Wilbur Wright High School below – take a look. Thanks for reading. Ag
SINCERELY, EDITH BOYER JAN-29-1947
“There isn’t much of his civil life to tell. He died so young. He was born April 15, 1924 in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. We brought him to Detroit on December 3, 1927. He attended Harms Grade School, Wilson Elementary School and he graduated from Wilbur Wright Trade School. He was a newspaper carrier when he was young. After graduation he worked as an apprentice at General Motors Research Laboratory. He was getting along fine there until he was drafted into the Army on February 25, 1943…
I’ve been sitting on this story for a long time.. On this gorgeously sunny Detroit day I stopped by Greene Playground to take a snap of the park. I met Curtis Green [same name as the park] and his friend Baxter. We chatted a while and they pointed me in another [the right] direction to my next destination. A lucky day; Baxter has an El Camino [luv the El Camino] and you don’t see many of those outside the southwest. Yes, it was a lucky day indeed; time well spent. It’s the small things.. PS This one is for you too Tim Bailey of the Detroit Mower Gang because I know this is your favorite pocket park to mow. It is a sweet park. ag
NATIONALLY KNOWN AND LIKED
How many people can be described like this? A southern gentleman with a battered fedora, a grin, a dry laugh and a cigar that he smoked down until the ash smudged his lips. This was Sam Greene.
Back in the day, streetcars ruled Detroit and then our ‘mass transit’ disappeared. With the advent of the short M-1 line now operating on Woodward, it seems fitting to learn about Fred who back in the day stood behind the idea of mass transit. ag
FRED W. CASTATOR
Described as a man of integrity, Fred’s record was stellar. In 1940 Councilman John Lodge told the media, “Fred Castator was probably the most honest man I ever knew. I disagreed with him often and sometimes violently, however he’s the only man for whom I ever made a campaign speech.”
Lodge respected Castator and believed he should be elected, however he didn’t believe he was a strong enough orator. Lodge knew his own political power and leveraged it as an investment for the greater good of Detroit.
A man of simple pleasures, Fred Castator (1882 – 1940) grew up as a farmer’s son in Carsonville, MI. He was proud to tell you his favorite beverages were pink lemonade and buttermilk; he never consumed coffee, tea or hard liquor. He lived in the Michigan thumb for his first two decades, moving to Detroit at 25. In 1907, Castator found employment as a streetcar conductor with the Detroit United Railways. He was a card carrying union member and took an active interest in the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Motor Coach Employees of America. He believed in mass transit. As their business manager (1915 – 1917) he led the union to victory in several strikes; helped found the Detroit Labor News, and won streetcar workers their first pension system.Continue reading “FRED W. CASTATOR – PARK #66”
– For a super long time, Milan sat in my stuck file, he was an only child [no one alive to contact]; I had found little about him. Things changed when I answered my phone. My lucky charm is a retired chiropractor friend. He checked in with me and I spent 50 quality minutes on the treadmill while he chatted me up. He inquired, “So how is that park thing?” I told him I needed a pep talk. He then proceeded to tell me a story about how his mother once dragged him to a park dedication [“like a million years ago”] .. then something about his mom’s friend Gladys and her boy Bobbie. Thanks god. 🙂 My lucky day. I found a little clarity and worked off that raw chocolate chip cookie dough I had abused the day before. Honor the small things in life, they can change the landscape in an instant. Thanks for reading. ag
“When I am sitting on that panel deciding cases, sometimes I find myself thinking that it’s like playing in a jazz trio and deciding how we’re going to play that tune most effectively so that it comes out sounding good..” Judge Myron Wahls
Judge Myron “Mike” Hastings Wahls
Park location: East of Livernois at Warrington and Chippewa.
Judge Wahls (1931-1998) was often referred to as a Rockefeller Republican, a term coined in the mid 1970’s to denote a moderate to liberal political stance similar to New York Governor / U.S. VP Nelson Rockefeller. He was a unique, talented man confident and comfortable in his own skin. The media described him as a tireless fighter in matters of the law and within his personal world.
Wahls was tireless. He served on the Appeals Court from 1982 – 1998. Reports indicate he reviewed cases at home up until his death from cancer. Prior, he was nominated by the Republican party to run against Frank Kelley (D) for the position of Michigan Attorney General in 1974. He lost the bid, but won an appointment to the Wayne County Circuit Court by Governor William Milliken in 1975.
Wahls was an Detroit Attorney and a member of the Michigan Employment Security Commission Appeals Board from 1969-1975. He fought for civil rights by marching in Alabama and Mississippi in 1964 as part of the Freedom Summer. He was tireless in his efforts to register people to vote. Continue reading “Hyde Park – Myron Wahls – Park 64”
“The past can take you to the future.” – Shirley Burch, NE Detroit Community Activist
Last week I was at Bishop Field with a friend. An older longtime Detroiter chatted us up. He said “Oh Detroit will NEVER be great again. It will never be like it was. And young people can’t make a living off being farmers, so we got to knock that off”. This conversation seems to always present itself when I randomly run into folks when trolling Detroit parks. I think what’s really happening is people won’t believe it until they see it. I say re-imagine the definition of great, ditch the negativity and believe instead.
There was a time when Detroit was first.. cars, industry, pharmaceuticals, the arsenal of democracy, leadership, a burgeoning film industry, parks system was in the Top 5. I don’t find these stories because I want to harken back to the way it was. I don’t revel or get off on WWII stories either [and there are a lot of them in this blog]. My plain aim: Give Detroit something to think about.
Fixating on the past isn’t productive but glancing backwards is a-ok. Glancing backwards, we see Detroit was paved with the dedicated, the super smart, the kind and the exceptional and oh some crappy people too. Glance around now and see the synergy that is taking place.. we can collectively say ‘We still got it and maybe even more of it now..along with the trash, crime and blight’.
So, here’s a story about an exceptional Detroiter from way back.. despite today’s deficiencies, we were and are still exceptional. And yes, back in the day, we were often first like Mr. Cannon.
As far as I know, he’s the only man who gets his name listed in the telephone book as ‘Dad’.
– George Stark, beloved Detroit News Columnist, 1948
Dad Butler’s incredible athletic ability set him ahead of the pack; a strong and homey nickname became his brand. Butler simply didn’t want to be missed. His response to Stark’s commentary: “That’s to make it easy for the lads to find me. They come from all over America, you know, and if they happened to be looking for me, I wouldn’t want them to miss the name, in all that fine print.”Continue reading “Michael Herbert “Dad” Butler – Park 61″
All who knew him, loved him and enjoyed working with him because of his patience and perseverance in surmounting obstacles. We felt that we had lost a true and good friend, when we heard of his passing, but his memory consoles us in our loss. We believe that he was all that being a good American means. We who knew Peter believe we are better off, by having known him and having the privilege of calling him, my friend, Peter Maheras. Sincerely, Curtis Laing – Mantle Club Secretary, 1947Continue reading “Maheras – Gentry Field #60”
Owen Hammerberg was born on May 31, 1920 in the small village of Daggett in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Prior to service, Owen lived with his father downstate in Flint and worked as a shop clerk. In 1941, he enlisted with the Navy as a diver, serving on both the Battleship USS Idaho and Sub Chaser USS Advent. He attended Deep Sea Diving School in Washington DC in 1944 and eventually was assigned to the Pacific Fleet Salvage Force in Pearl Harbor, in the territory of Hawaii. These experiences would prepare him for an assignment where his bravery and skill would excel and consequently call his life to an abrupt end. Continue reading “Owen Francis Hammerberg – Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class – Park 26”
July 2017 – The ceremonial shovels have turned over the first patch of dirt on the new Kemeny Rec Center. Look for new photos later in the fall.
HARDWORKING, DEDICATED DELRAY FAMILY
As a teen, Charles (Karoly) Kemeny enjoyed playing baseball on Detroit’s sandlots. His relatives tell us his baseball skills were so exceptional the St. Louis Cardinals took interest in signing him to a contract. Alas, he was too young to sign and his grandmother’s disapproval put this dream on the rear burner. Charles worked odd jobs after graduating from Holy Reedmer High School intending to enroll at the Carnegie Institute of Technology for Engineering. He heard the call to serve in WWII and in 1942 he enlisted with his parent’s consent.
Edward Voigt is a fairly well known story. Hopefully, I put in a few details outside of the norm. Historic accounts of Voigt park call it a “breathing space” – a great description. One letter to the editor of a local paper (circa 1922) recommended erecting a memorial hall in Voigt park due to: 1) the city owned the land 2) the park’s lack of use 3) probability that the park would be there in 100 years [yep] 4) saving taxpayer’s money [genius]. Maybe the city fathers and mothers should have heeded that advice? ahh. ag
Edward Voigt (1844 – 1920) had a solid reputation for his work ethic and business acumen.
As a landowner, he turned his 150 acre farm off Woodward into Voigt Park Subdivision in the 1890’s. We can thank him for Boston Boulevard, Chicago Boulevard as well as several of the surrounding streets west of Woodward.
Raised in Germany, he traveled to America with his folks Carl William and Pauline in 1854 on the trans-Atlantic ship, the Malabar. The trio crisscrossed the Midwest settling in Madison, Wisconsin where his father started the Capitol Steam Brewery. Edward began his education and attended the University of Wisconsin. He achieved the status of Brew Master at age 17. In 1864, the family brewery was sold to Carl Hausmann, a local WI ale competitor. William Voigt moved to Detroit to start a new brewery; his son Edward went on an adventure to California. The Detroit Voigt Brewery was built on Grand River at High Street [today this is around Grand River and I-75 area). Eventually, its 150 ft. chimney would grace the Detroit skyline. Continue reading “EDWARD WILLIAM VOIGT – Park #59”