We’re back after a long, long hiatus.
It’s pretty dusty in here, so we’re cleaning up the site and taking all the returnables back. Thanks for being patient with the process.
We’re back after a long, long hiatus.
It’s pretty dusty in here, so we’re cleaning up the site and taking all the returnables back. Thanks for being patient with the process.
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:
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 I have run across where the person was living when they received their honorary park. Joseph Pagel falls into this category through his exceptional service to the United States in time of war. Lyle Maxton Skinner, John Yaksich, Robert Simanek and Leroy Messmer were other veterans with this honor. 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 composer Richard Whiting, [nice story at that link] who managed the desk as a fledgling composer.
After high school, Messmer attended Annapolis Naval Academy graduating in 1925. His continued Navy service and would provide leadership in both World War II and the Korean War. In July 1943 Commander Messmer guided a 13 ship mine sweeping unit in hostile, actively mined waters off of Sicily. His expert tactile ability and rescue efforts resulted in opening a harbor closed to US WWII forces. He earned the Navy Cross Medal. In the early 1950’s he was called for duty in Korea and quickly earned the Bronze Star as Commander of an escort destroyer squadron.
William’s mother insisted that he take his violin with him to war. Resistant, Messmer complied with parting words, “I know what you expect. You expect me to sit in the prow of the No. 1 ship and you expect me to fiddle while the whole world burns,” he said. The violin proved to be good company. Messmer retired from Navy service as a Rear Admiral in 1955. He died in July 1973.
William Leroy Messmer was one of the few Detroit residents who received the honor of a namesake park while still living. The playground came to fruition as an act of the Detroit War Memorial Committee in 1951. His east side playground is an active venue for basketball, neighborhood picnics and little league games at the Joseph Simoncini Field.
The park is kept in tip-top shape by the Motor City Grounds Crew, a landscape non-profit founded and subsidized by the Lear Corporation. Joe’s field may be [not sure] a loving tribute to a relation of Matthew Simoncini, CEO of the Lear Corporation who grew up in Detroit’s East English Village and continues to support Detroit with corporate investment through educational opportunities and resurrected manufacturing pursuits. Thanks Matt for sticking with your roots.
Hey thanks for reading!
Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2016.
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
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.
Dabrowski was placed in the archdiocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1870. His first job was tending to a Catholic Polish parish located in the rough and tumble saloon filled town of Poland Corners. With a heavy temptation of alcohol, women and gambling present, Dabrowski had great difficulty stabilizing church attendance and attracting more parishioners. His answer was to seek approval from the Green Bay Archdiocese and move the parish to another location. Tavern owners used the court system to accuse Dabrowski of trying to ruin their livelihood. When permission was finally granted, Dabrowski and his flock physically dismantled the wooden parish buildings, loaded them onto wagons, and moved to new land which he named Polonia.
In 1874, Dabrowski brought over a five Polish Felician nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix to Polonia to run a school and orphanage. This is reported to be the first group of Polish nuns in the United States and the order would grow to staff more than 40% of all Polish Catholic schools in the US by the mid-20th century. Dabrowski authored the first textbook on arithmetic for those Polish schools as well as texts on geography and gardening.
In 1882, the Felicians transferred their mother-house to Detroit and Dabrowski accompanied them as their spiritual director. He was appointed temporary Pastor of St. Albertus where controversy ensued. St. Albertus is still open for mass on a limited schedule.
Two factors fueled Dabrowski’s drive to build a Polish Seminary in Detroit. He inherited the project started by pastor Father Leopold Moczygemba who was in declining health. Secondly, Dabrowski understood the power and privilege of his university education and wanted to bring the same opportunities to the Polish immigrants he was serving. The Polish of Detroit were poor and typically performed the hardest manual labor and had large families. Every penny earned was used to feed and support the family with little or nothing left for betterment.
Father Moczygemba kicked in a personal loan and Dabrowski finished raising the funds bringing the seminary dream to fruition. With the support of Bishop Caspar Borgess, then head of the Detroit Archdiocese, Dabrowski bought land for the Felician Order to build a new mother house and Guardian Angels Orphanage at Canfield and St. Aubin. He also purchased land at Forest and St. Aubin for the site of the Polish Seminary School of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Construction began in 1884; the school opened in 1885.
It is written, in his later years, Dabrowski had an unmistakable street presence. He walked everywhere always wearing his cassock and had flowing, shoulder length white hair. The Poles of Hamtramck and Detroit had high reverence for him, often stopping him and asking for a blessing. Dabrowski died from a stroke in February 1903.
By 1909, the seminary moved to its new home in the village of Orchard Lake, MI. Through the decades a preparatory high school named for Father Dabrowski , St. Mary’s College and Cardinal Adam Maida Library were added onto the beautiful campus called the Orchard Lake Schools and Polish Mission.
In 1951, The Alumni association of St. Mary’s High School and the St Cyril and Methodius Seminary petitioned of the city to have the playground named in Dabrowski’s honor. It was positioned on former site of the seminary at the corner of Forest and St. Aubin. Sold off to a neighboring business, the plaque and flagpole base are still located on the corner reminding all who pass of the once proud Polish neighborhood presence and Dabrowski’s determination to uplift the lives of others.
Note: I’ve run through only a tiny bit of the history in this once strong, heavily populated Polish [now highly vacant neighborhood] in Detroit. Plus I skipped mentioning all the who-ha news reports regarding the scrapping and vandalism that occurred just a few short years after the seminary was vacated. Scrapping and vandalism have been happening here for 100+ years. Yikes. There are so many stories/conversations both published and un-sourced surrounding the parishes and history located in this area. Some of them conflict. But if you’re looking for reading about Polish Detroiters and their churches.. just put ‘Polish Detroit’ into google – years worth of authoritative reading, conversations and articles.
Another note.. A few years back I went to a lecture by Marian Krzyzowski regarding his U of M LSA/IRLEE project to create a virtual history of Chene Street. using mapping tied to vintage photos, oral histories and memories provided by former residents, business owners and their relatives. It’s a great project which began a while ago and is still underway. If Polish neighborhood history is your thing check out his Humans of Chene Street FB page and this link that uses the ‘then and now’ web technology which can be tied into mapping. It will be great way to see Chene street back in the day when it’s up and running.
And another side note, if you are into Polish military history consider visiting the Polish Mission Museum located on the grounds of the St. Mary’s of Orchard Lake. The contents inside this museum will surprise you as they are numerous and rival military artifacts which are found in Poland today. Yes, right here in our own backyard of metro Detroit. Again, thanks for reading. ag
Copyright, 2015 Andrea Gallucci.
Stockton playground location: Dwight, Parkview, Detroit River
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’.
David worked hard, took some risks and according to his family became self made man. “The metamorphosis shown through the family photos from a Tennessee boy into a Detroit businessman is amazing,” conveys his niece Linda. He was a ‘saver’ and purchased a Detroit apartment building, opened a pool hall and corner store before he set off for WWII.
He had love and a life with his wife Dorothy Scoggins Stockton marrying on December 25, 1935. When David went off to war Dorothy ran their neighborhood store.
Stockton’s relatives tell us he was inducted October 7, 1943 and trained for Army service with the 90th Infantry Division at Camp Blanding, Florida. The few military records found show us he landed at Normandy in June 1944 making way through the fierce battle. Six months later, unlucky December 13th and the Battle of the Bulge would be his nemesis.
Sergeant Stockton became wounded on December 13th, while battling Hitler’s Army in Morhange – Lorraine, France near the Saar River. As one of only two men left in his unit, he fought until severely wounded, remaining in his trench firing his machine gun upon the counter attacking enemy. Per his military citation: “his actions aided in repelling the counter attack”. He died of wounds on December 20, 1944.
Stockton earned two purple hearts and a unit citation during his military service. His widow Dorothy received his Silver Star posthumously at the 728th Military Police Battalion Camp within Detroit’s River Rouge Park in July 1945. After David’s death, veterans of Gratiot Township honored his memory forming the Burger – Stockton VFW Post 6784 in 1946. The post is now defunct.
David Stockton playground was dedicated in 1951. During the 1960’s it was the starting point for the Gold Cup Races on the Detroit River. Feel the thunder! It’s renovated and offers wonderful bench river views.
Thanks for reading. Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2016. Yep.
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, the Madison – Lenox hotel, a boy’s club off Fenkell Avenue, 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.
Location: Gone – Rec Center and playground formerly at Congress and Larned
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.
Nagle took high interest in the plight of Detroit youth with involvement in the Catholic Youth Organization and St. Francis Home for Boys. Mayor Jeffries took notice of his efforts and Nagle was appointed the first President to the newly formed Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation in 1940. He served on the commission until December 1949 when Mayor Van Antwerp abruptly replaced him with Michael “Dad” Butler.
During his Parks and Rec tenure, Nagle worked closely with Governor Alex Groesbeck and Margaret Simmons [her story not yet posted] for the planning of the Farwell Field project (also an upcoming story) – a 100 acre park developed with funding gifted to the city. In 1942, Nagle generously donated the playground equipment for a small experimental play lot at Woodrow Wilson and Calvert Streets just north of Boston Edison.
In winter 1939, Fred Nagle heard about a rogue group of boys using an old shanty on his property near Fenkell and Log Cabin without his consent. Driving by one day, he saw smoke curling from the chimney, so he stopped and knocked on the door. “Who is it?” asked a boy’s voice on the inside. “Fred Nagle, the owner of this property,” he returned. “Well, come on in,” replied the boy.
Instead of proceeding with a fierce eviction, Fred pulled up a home-made stool by the small wood stove and started a conversation. He was truly interested in the boys’ desire to have a real clubhouse and participate in activities that interested them.
He challenged them to get organized and offered them the use of a vacant field as a play lot. In turn, the boys got busy electing Billy Roggero [1922-1996] as the first President of their club. They mowed the lot and created a baseball field. By the end of the summer they had 140 members. Nagle arranged with the Department of Recreation for Fred Johnson, an experienced recreation supervisor to guide the boys.
“He seemed to take an interest in us from the start,” remarked 17 year old Billy Roggero to the Detroit Free Press.
Satisfied, Nagle offered them the use of another small brick building on his property. By 1942, the Detroit chapter of the Gene Tunney Detroit Boys Club was born. Gene Tunney [1897-1978] was boxing heavy weight champion who created a national legion of boys clubs across the US after retiring from boxing in 1928.
One of their first club projects was creating content to publish a small newspaper – The Tunney Town News. [Oh how I wish I could find an issue of this today..] The publication advertised the club, their members, as well as willingness to take odd jobs and run errands to earn money.
The new clubhouse was improved with a reading room, game tables, showers, a locker room, small gym and of course a boxing ring. Autographed photos of men who had pursued and achieved success in their careers despite obstacles and handicaps lined the walls for inspiration.
The clubhouse was dedicated July 15, 1942. The boys were responsible for furnishing a tribute to Mr. Nagle, the history of the club and mission statement. At the dedication, Nagle refused to be photographed by the newspapers indicating that the real press belonged to the boy’s efforts. *It’s hard to say when the Gene Tunney boys club ended I am thinking it was the late 1960’s.* If you know, please chime in on the facebook page. With little mention of the club I was happy to find the sources I did.
Fred Nagel passed in September 1954. Elmwood Playground and Recreation Center were re-named in 1957 to honor his contribution to Detroit youth. In 1966 both memorials were swallowed up by the Elmwood Park Rehabilitation project. Nagel’s Detroit legacy is gone aside from his burial in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Thanks for reading. ©Andrea Gallucci, 2016. etc etc.
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..
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.
On January 23, 1945 he was wounded by mortar rounds while trying to rescue a crewman from a disabled assault gun vehicle. He later died. Peterson is buried in a U.S. Military Cemetery in Manila, Philippines.
While living and working as an accountant with Packard Motors in Detroit, he fell in love and married Nola Sanders in May 1930. They had one daughter, Judy. Nola accepted the posthumous award of the Silver Star in August 1945 at Camp River Rouge, the 786th Military Police Battalion Post in Rouge Park.
The 17 acre park which stands as a memorial to his legacy was once known as Greenfield – Curtis playfield but was renamed by the Detroit War Memorials Committee with a dedication in 1953.
Thanks for reading! Truly, Andrea Gallucci
© per the usual. 2016. Please don’t re-use family photos without permission. 🙂
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.
By 1900, his blacksmith shop – John C. Nagel and Son – on 14th street was a known neighborhood stopping ground for stoking the fires for carriage repairs and Detroit politics. As his civic career progressed, his forging business remained open; work on automobile bodies began in 1910.
John Nagel excelled in all conversations regarding taxation; the appointment as the City of Detroit Assessor in 1908 came with raised eyebrows. A blacksmith can become the Assessor? He proved himself.
In 1916, he convinced the State of Michigan Equalization Board in Lansing that they had overvalued the cash value of Wayne County property by using the wrong method of valuation. His eloquent argument resulted in a reduction of the county assessment by $350,328,229. Yep.
Detroit Edison hired Nagel as a special real estate appraiser and tax consultant. His resignation as Assessor came when elected Alderman in 1918 which led to a seat on the Detroit City Council, a position he held until retirement in 1931.
Nagel’s vision for the city of Detroit flowed freely – good ideas and bad. During his tenure he passed a 1919 unrealized resolution for a trenched subway running on John R, Gratiot Avenue and Michigan Avenue with the old City Library used as the main depot. [Great idea for mass transit and a city property reuse.]
He understood how to raise funds for city improvements such as repaving and widening of roads. [Our statewide unresolved hot topic]. He created a sinking fund by levying a $1.00 tax on each $1000 in assessable property. Nagel raised $3 million annually [1920’s dollars there].
Notably, Nagel was instrumental in the purchase / development of 1100+ acre River Rouge Park in the mid-1920’s which he considered his most important achievement of his civic career. His crusade for a zoo within River Rouge Park was deemed a plain ol’ bad idea coupled with a helping of self-serving ‘trickery’ to bypass the accepted Woodward and 10 Mile location. Even in 1922 folks were talking about 8 Mile in the newspapers.
A little closer in.. it was really sunny that day..
Later, as City Council president, Nagel represented the city at the Detroit – Windsor Tunnel bulkhead removal ceremony celebrating completion and connection of the two cities/countries in July 1930.
He was notified by letter on May 1, 1925 that the Department of Recreation named a playground after him for his “sincere efforts and support of recreation in Detroit”. The original namesake parkland at Wabash, Pine and Vermont Streets was sold to the State of Michigan for construction of the Fisher Freeway in 1966.
The city fathers quickly re-established a new 4+ acre site a ½ mile north at Wabash, Rosa Parks and MLK Boulevard.
Thanks for reading.Copyright 2016,Andrea Gallucci.
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.
*Please note this is a complete Campbell 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.
The Highland Park model city areas were two 300 acre sections. The west section boundaries were: Hamilton; the Lodge; Oakman and Tuxedo. The Highland Park Adventure Playground was birthed in 1970 within this federal program. Now let’s learn about it’s designer..
New York Architect Richard Dattner understands the importance of a child’s imagination. In his book Designs for Play, he wrote, “Work can be forced, but play like love is a supremely voluntary undertaking.” [love that quote]
Dattner designed play scapes for “the child, not for tradition” and his Modernist take was meant to invoke the 5 senses. He shunned slides and swings, indicating they didn’t inspire curiosity, nor did they allow the child to change his/her mind. [I have to agree. Once you’re at the top of the slide, you gotta go down because all those other kids behind you are pissed that you’re taking too long. Summon your courage and breathe.]
Further he remarked, “I try to provide a rich environment with things to feel, touch and wallow in..give the kids as much control as possible”.
Dattner created adventure playgrounds all over the country and his Modernist designs in Central Park look great today. The obvious gaps between Highland Park and NYC lie in big budgets, eclectic tastes, demographics and housing styles. Detroiters also have backyards and New Yorkers don’t.
Dattner designed this interesting, one time beauty at Richton and Lincoln Streets with a sunken, stepped amphitheater which doubled as a splashing pool which is now filled in. Those pyramidal climbing ‘Mayan Temples’ were set up with crawling tunnels; who doesn’t want to be king/queen of a Mayan mini temple?
Additionally, the temples were designed to play the 1970’s game of Stepball – where you throw the ball against the front stoop of your brownstone or tenement and it bounces back to you. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of those housing styles nearby [clear throat here]. The general consensus was the adventure playground was a bit too “out there for Highland Park”.
Eight years after the construction, news reports indicated mixed reviews:
“Too much concrete and lots of wasted space”..and then..
“He designed I think for upper-income folks. It’s the kind of playground where the maid comes down with the kid. And Highland Park is, shall I call it, ‘Ghetto Heights?’”, remarked Luther Holt, Highland Park Recreation Director in 1978. Playground experts offered that Dattner designs were too expensive for the typical municipality.
While I haven’t found the total amount spent for the park, 1969 news reports indicate $300,000 was spent for just amassing the park land which totaled 1.8 acre. That’s ouch and oops all in one sentence; I think I just fell and hit my head on some concrete. 😉
Thanks to artist and Ark Master Scott Hocking for asking me about this story. He’s talented, curious and a Detroit smarty.
As a former real estate appraiser, I think the highest and best use is to take this puppy and turn it into a skateboard park. With some investment it would give any kids left in the neighborhood a constructive outlet and become a destination drawing in other Highland Parkers, Detroiters and those occasional suburbanites. Envision it as the bright spot off the Lodge with the potential to become a ‘new named neighborhood’ raising the residency rate and tax base. I know, I sound hopeful.
The infrastructure is there; now that we know what we have, Tony Hawk we need you more than ever. ag
Location: Rich, Lovett and Kinsman Streets
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.
Formerly known as Kinsman Playground, the park first came to fruition in the 1920’s. Good days were seen in 1940’s and 1950’s serving kids with a baseball diamond, lots of playground equipment, ice skating [flooded park in winter], drinking fountains, and a comfort station with toilet. A 1 acre destination for neighborhood kids.
Jacob and Tille Sak raised their large Polish family of 11 children on nearby Scotten Street. When World War II came along, four eligible and brave sons served in WWII – Michael, Joseph, Stanley and Walter. They all returned to Detroit except for Walter.
Prior to service, Walter was a skilled worker in an auto parts factory grinding and buffing. He landed in the US Army 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant earning both the Bronze Medal and Silver Star.
His division was responsible for many amphibious assaults including D-Day at Normandy. Walter’s service was long and varied with additional battles in North Africa- Kasserine Pass, Tunisia ; Sicily, Italy; Remagen and Stolberg, Germany.
The end of the line came on Monday, November 20, 1944; Walter died of wounds received in battle. He arrived at the field hospital missing his arm. His division took the Laufenberg Castle. The specifics of his service, military citation and subsequent death are forgotten details most likely lost in the archival fire of 1973.
His surviving family tells us an inquiry with the National Archive shows the battle site in Schevenhütte, Hürtgen Forest, Germany. Interned in Belgium in the Henri-Chapelle US Military Cemetery; Walter Sak, Detroit remembers you.
Thanks for reading. Copyright as usual. 2015. Andrea Gallucci.
— 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
“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…
Thomas had a successful career serving in the US Army, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry fighting in France and Italy. He understood the simplicity of completing a mission:
Early on in his service, he and his two buddies were ordered to “get prisoners for interrogation”, so they did. Within two hours, they returned with a German Major and an orderly. Ah, that’s efficiency.
Prior to his death, Boyer’s service was distinctly noted by superiors, however he was decorated posthumously.
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS
On May 28, 1944 in the afternoon near Lariano, Italy Boyer went out with a patrol as an ‘observer’ only. By the end of patrol he had assaulted an enemy strong-point, killed six adversarial soldiers and held off and heavily damaged an armored personnel/ammunition truck. He took a sniper’s bullet and even though seriously wounded, Boyer covered the withdrawal of his patrol. I can only imagine the Rambo-like adrenaline rush he was under. He survived this mission and ended up in hospital. For his volunteer efforts, Boyer earned the Distinguished Service Cross.
Later that year in August 1944, Boyer was a volunteer mission in France when he heard the cries of two wounded soldiers. He ran through enemy fire and proceeded to administer aid. When the soldiers were evacuated, Boyer purposely ran ahead of the slow moving litter [stretcher], firing his machine gun into enemy positions to divert attention away from the wounded men. For this feat, he earned the Bronze Star.
He met death in battle on November 4, 1944 in Anzio, Italy and is buried in the Epinal Military Cemetery in Dinoze, France. He was additionally decorated with a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster.
The ordinance passed for naming of the park occurred in Sept 1947. The 1.7 acre parcel for Thomas Boyer playground came from a transfer from the Detroit Street Railways Department which tells us it may have been a street car or interurban stop back in the day. Boyer playground has a pentagonal shape with small frontage along Vernor Highway and is bordered by Dragoon and Cadet streets. The Burger King flanking the property has decent service for a girl and a dog who needed fries plus a pretty clean bathroom.
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
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.
Sam Greene [1895-1963] was the son of an editor and publisher; after the baby bottle he was weaned on the mechanics of publishing and the smithing of words. His first job was at his hometown paper The Clinton Forge Review in Virginia. He landed in Detroit in 1922 after serving in the Navy and working other press stints in Virginia and Texas. Initially, he spent two years at the Free Press and finished out his 40+ year journalism career at the Detroit News.
The ‘sweet science’ was Greene’s first love. His writings about boxing were dramatic and masterful, especially during the 1930’s when boxing was known for its amazing cast of characters. An early Lions fan, Greene followed the franchise since its Detroit inception in 1934. What would he think today?
He married Kittie while serving in the US Navy during WWII. Afterwards, as a reporter, Greene worked afternoons and evenings. During their marriage, Kittie drove the car; Sam never learned to drive and had no license. Kittie was quickly admired as the “the model newspaper wife” adjusting her household schedule to accommodate Greene’s sports centered career. Tiger players coming out of the stadium after a late evening game were accustomed to see Kittie waiting in the parking lot behind the wheel. Greene moved from Detroit News reporter to the sports editorship succeeding Harry Salsinger [Ty Cobb devotee – Park #16 ] when he passed in 1958. The Greene’s son Edgar Carlton Greene interned at the Detroit News and on his own accord became a respected and beloved reporter eventually writing the “Press Box” sports column.
On a Thursday in September 1963, Sam laid down in bed to listen to the Tigers – Red Sox game on the radio. His wife Kittie later found him deceased. He lived and died loving sports. Nominated by Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh, the city honored Greene with a four acre park located at Robson and Ellis Streets shortly after his death.
Thanks for reading – Andrea G.
Back in the day, streetcars ruled Detroit and then our mass transit disappeared. With the advent of the short M-1 line currently under construction on Woodward, it seems fitting to learn about Fred who back in the day stood behind the idea of mass transit.
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.
He was ushered into a lifetime of civil service in 1917 when appointed as the Deputy State Labor Commissioner of Michigan by Governor Albert Sleeper. A year later, he won an important election to serve on the Detroit Common [City] Council which continued for 18 years through re-election.
Castator ran on his homespun beliefs. He took special interest in the women’s division of the Detroit Police and was an advocate of increased presence of women officers. He was a staunch supporter for building a Detroit airport as a civic investment and catalyst to attract aviation companies/factories as an industry. Castator stood for increased recreation areas in the city.
Importantly, in 1927 he lobbied for Detroit to invest in a teacher’s college. “The Detroit girl who wants to become a teacher but who has not the money to go out of town to college should have an opportunity for training. Detroit children should have adequately trained teachers. That is one form of higher education which the City should undertake with a vengeance,” he remarked.
Castator was elected to the post of City Clerk in 1937 and held the position until his death in November 1940. News reports indicate he “worked himself to death” dying suddenly during a re-election bid in November 1940.
Formerly known as Playground No. 16, this park was renamed to honor Castator by Recreation Commissioner Clarence Brewer in May 1925. It was once a vibrant park with a softball diamond, horseshoe courts, fountain, fences, playground equipment, comfort station with furnace. Today it is adorned with a newer play structure, rusty backstop and the abandoned Blackwell Adult Education Center.
This park is currently on the list of real estate opportunities [for sale] offered by the city. When the right buyer appears, this playground will disappear and so will Castator’s legacy.
Learn more about the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Motor Coach Employees of America at the Walter Reuther Labor Library on the Wayne State campus. They house issues of their periodical The Motorman, Conductor and Motor Coach Operator.
– 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
Native Detroiter Robert Cole Milan (1920-1944) was the only child of Bert Josef Milan and Gladys McAllister. Gladys fondly referred to her son as “Bobbie”. Milan graduated from Detroit’s Northwestern High School and attended Highland Park Junior college.
His father was a Detroit violinist running the Milan’s Eastwood Orchestra playing events at the Eastwood Gardens Ballroom, Tuller Hotel and upscale parties. His music could also be heard on WWJ radio live. After his parents divorced, Bobbie remained living with his mother in northwest Detroit.
WWII knocked on Milan’s door and he enlisted for service leaving behind his factory job as a sheet metal worker. He trained at Camp Elliot in California and was assigned to the Marines 2nd Tank Division, as a tank gunner.
Milan was a veteran of the Tarawa campaign, an especially bloody, three day battle in November 1943 against extremely fortified Japanese forces. War correspondents who witnessed the fighting wrote of the stench of rotting bodies and food during this battle, “..one that would be remembered for life by every Marine that fought there”.
Milan survived this battle yet perished June 30, 1944 on Saipan while providing the cover for the evacuation of a wounded Marine.
It was World War II, so there’s always got to be one gory, reality photo. Thank the stars you weren’t in this humid sea of hell called Tarawa.
Milan earned the posthumous award of the Silver Star and is interred in Arlington National Cemetery. His namesake park is a large beauty with a snaking walking path; well-kept and loved by Northwest Detroiters.
Thanks for reading. Andrea Gallucci. Copyright 2015.
“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
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.
An accomplished jazz pianist, he toured Europe with band leader, percussionist and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton during the 1980’s. Wahls played piano during his undergrad University of Michigan days, as well as in a trio at Northwestern University in Chicago. He graduated with his law degree in 1961. No academic slouch, he also earned a Master’s degree in law from the University of Virginia. He was born in Rushville, Indiana moving to Michigan as a youth and graduating from Ann Arbor High School in 1950.
Taken by cancer, he died shortly before his 67th year at his Detroit home. His wife Shirleyan served as a Detroit public school teacher for 42 years passing in 2011. They had two children.
The tiny triangular Hyde Park houses a gazebo and dedication plaque honoring Wahls. It’s a perfect location to remember this talented and tireless Detroiter as it’s near to his former residence and just a short walk up Livernois to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.
Thanks for reading. Copyright ©Andrea Gallucci, 2015.
“The past can take you to the future.” – Shirley Burch, NE Detroit Community Activist, all around smart lady
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.
Missouri transplant George Ham Cannon was born to parents Estelle Ham Chapman and Benjamin Bartlett Cannon III [regal naming convention in that family] on November 5, 1915. Shortly thereafter the Cannon’s made the move to Detroit. George graduated from Southeastern High School in 1932 where he was immersed in band, chess and the magic club. His sister Margaret tells us George was stellar flutist and raised her in the utmost caring manner after their father’s early death.
Military training ran thick in the veins of the Ham family. Following tradition, George attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana. He continued on to graduate from the University of Michigan with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1938. As a Battle Commander with the Battery H, 6th Defense Battalion, Fleet Marine Force, he was assigned duty on Sand Island in the Pacific. On the evening of December 7th, 1941 [remember Pearl Harbor came in the am ] Japanese forces lauched a sneaky 23 minute barrage on Sand Island. There were only four casualties.
Cannon was severely wounded by shell fire and refused medical assistance/evacuation until his wounded men were cared for first. He suffered from a crushed pelvis. He continued to direct the reorganization of his unit despite his injuries. He was forcibly removed and died from blood loss. Detroiter George Ham Cannon was the first soldier in WWII to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. While his family is interred in Indiana, George rests at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Hawaii.
In August 1942, Cannon was honored with a four flag tribute and military parade on Washington Boulevard. Thousands attended. The Cannon Marine recruiting center at the corner of State and Washington Boulevard reflected his heroism. The USS Cannon, a destroyer escort, was officially launched in May 1943. A new elementary school was dedicated in his name at Midway Island after WWII.
The Detroit park dedicated to his service is now enveloped into the grounds of the wonderful East English Village Preparatory Academy [the former site of Finney High School]. A really really beautiful school.
2015 ©andrea gallucci
This post is a two-fer.. one person received the playground as a memorial while the other was an “almost”. In this post, it’s only right to honor both Detroiter’s because…
In 1948, folks living on Burns Street in Detroit requested 15+ vacant, city owned lots be converted for playground use. The city complied turning the land platted as Cook Farms [owned by John Owen] into Seneca-Moffat Playground. By 1954, complaints regarding ‘playing of hard baseball’ at the playground were rolling in from homeowners. A neighborhood petition to revoke the land as a playground was sent to City Council citing loud noise, broken windows and teen boys [not children] as the culprits. Egads. The city devised a solution: Erect a softball diamond to eliminate damage to homes. Hard baseball was ‘absolutely prohibited’ and the Seneca playground was supervised by staff of Parks and Rec to keep conduct orderly. Back in the day, the City of Detroit employed many playground supervisors to formulate programming and of course, supervise. It was a good thing.
In August 1954, Dr. George Peterson wrote to his city councilperson Del Smith asking for Seneca Playground to be re-named for William Lumley, a neighborhood boy whose death came after a short service in WWII. The idea of honoring Lumley was welcomed by the city; the doctor was a smidge too late. The Detroit War Memorial Committee had already selected Seneca to be re-named for Clare T. Latham, another lost WWII Detroiter. Peterson was advised to rquest another parcel. Unfortunately, Lumley Memorial Playground never came to fruition.
“Clare Latham was one of the finest young men East Detroiters knew in his school days and there was never a more likeable fellow with a burning desire to succeed, to be someone. He just breathed exuberance for sports and the newspaper writer’s life. He had a contagious love of life that surrounded those he came into contact with…”
–Walter Coppins, an excerpt from a letter addressed to Detroit General Superintendent, 8-23-1963
Clare attended East Detroit High School and grew up on Goethe Street. After graduating, he worked as a manager of an Atlantic and Pacific (A & P) grocery store; later as a ‘newsboy’ at the editorial department of the Detroit News. He married his sweetheart Evelyn Hasse [yes a street and park with this name in the city] in June 1940 and enlisted for WWII service in April 1941.
Clare served as a medic with the Red Arrow Division – US Army, 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division. Military sources indicate he was injured while rescuing an Australian Officer during a mortar attack on 12-31-1942 near Sanananda, Papua New Guinea in the
Papuan Campaign. The video link gives a glimpse of the conditions and landscape of this Pacific campaign against the Japanese. [It also features music of Sigur Ros, bonus]. Latham died a few days later in hospital on January 3, 1943; internment at Fort McKinley Military Cemetery in the Philippines.
Evelyn Latham received his posthumous award of the Silver Star on June 18, 1945 at the U.S. Army post located inside Rouge Park. [yes! this existed for training and meeting purposes] Clare’s memory lives on at Seneca Avenue, north of Warren on the east side.
William Lumely didn’t get a memorial park so he’s getting remembered here instead.
William Lumley (1921 -1944) grew up on Burns Street around the block from Seneca Moffat Park and attended Eastern High School where he sang in the Boy’s Octet. His service with the Air Corps 586th Bomber Squadron included two years stateside before his missions over France and Belguim began.
The entire month of December 1944 was very foggy over France and Belgium making air missions dangerous. The B-26 was manned by a Wilmer Lackas – pilot, William Lumley – co-pilot; Thomas Kelley – Bomber / Navigator; and three gunners – John Wojs, Cpl. Witte and Salvatore Tornabene. Reports tell us the men knew of the flight risk but proceeded with their mission. With no eyewitnesses, it’s hard to know exactly what happened in the crash on December 2nd. A military report dated December 9, 1944 gives an official description of the plane crash.
“Airplane No. 12-96053 was part of a formation returning from the target to the home station. It was flying in No. 5 position in the low flight, and was soon to be dropping back after leaving the target. The formation was unsuccessful in trying to get under the clouds..Inspection of the crash revealed that the airplane skidded up a hill dragging the tail section for approximately 150 yards before the propellers struck the ground. The propeller marks indicate the engines were turning over while the airplane continued another 75 yards, after which it had enough speed to go over and beyond the crest of the hill. The airplane broke into 3 sections and partially burned. It was evident it was a crash landing and not an attempted belly landing. Everyone perished. William Lumley rests in Detroit’s Forest Lawn Cemetery.
I am so glad to be able to re-tell the story of these Detroiters. The only curiousness I can’t explain is why it took the city so long to dedicate the playground. All the complaints and correspondence occurred 9 years prior; Latham Playground wasn’t dedicated until 1963. A missing piece.
Super thanks to Tom, Mary and Audrey for graciously sharing Clare Latham’s photo completing the visual connection to this story.
The photo of the letter above was written by 2nd Lt. Thomas Kelley who died alongside William Lumley on that foggy WWII day. With no luck of finding the Lumley’s, I ran into the Kelley family online. I really couldn’t have completed this story without the help of Tom’s relative, Gail Murray Kelley. Thanks again for filling in the blanks, being patient and providing the flight crew photo. Gail’s uncle, Thomas Kelley was interred in the American Military Cemetery in Henri Chapelle Belgium. His Purple Heart is a treasured family heirloom reminding the Kelley family of the service and sacrifice put forth by a loved one they never had the full pleasure of knowing. A recent family visit to Europe revealed local Belgians have adopted this military cemetery keeping it tidy and minding Tom’s final resting place. Peace of mind.
Copyright, 2015. Andrea Gallucci
Thanks for reading. Ag
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.”
Butler was born in March 1870 in Catskill, New York. He was the eldest of five siblings; the son of a stone quarryman. He grew into a man of interesting feats.
At 17 years, he trekked out west and became well known for foot racing and practicing with the Ute band of Native Americans. At this juncture, foot racing was an endurance sport with a gambling element. There are many claims that he amassed a significant amount of $ by betting his skill against racing their desert quarter horses. This intense practice groomed him to return east and become the first professional foot racer to finish the half mile under two minutes. He clocked in at 1:59. When interest waned, Butler turned to the “sweet science”. Boxing.
An excellent boxer himself, Butler began training and coaching many a pugilist. In 1896, under his guiding hand, the small and ferocious George ‘the Saginaw Kid’ Lavine defeated the world champion Dick Burge.
The Windy City was next. In 1897, Butler became the coach of The Chicago Track Club. Here, he developed Jimmy Lightbody who went on to win multiple medals in the 1904 Olympics. While in Chicago, Butler met the young Knute Rockne becoming his first coach.
In 1907, Butler moved westward starting a private coaching and training school for athletes in Portland, Oregon. He accepted a position of track coach at Oregon State Agricultural College in 1919. Already known as ‘Dad’, his Aggies took firsts and second place in some seriously storied track meets.
Detroit became acquainted with Butler’s professional athletic management in 1927. Dad had garnered assistant professorship of Physical Education at the University of Detroit. He formulated the track and field program for the school as it had none; he also coached varsity football.
This would be his final move, spending the remainder of his life as a Detroiter. Outside of the sports world, ‘Dad’ was husband of Catherine and the father of two children – Bancroft and Mary. The Butler family resided on West McNichols in Highland Park across from the Detroit Golf Club. In the 1930’s as a sideline, Butler judged three of Joe Louis’ most important fights. With a full and successful career behind him, he retired from U of D in 1944.
In 1950, Butler accepted a position on the Detroit Parks and Recreation Commission alongside Bernard Lasky, Willis Watts O’Hair, and Vaughn Reid, eventually becoming President of the Commission. Additionally, he was the Director of Ford Motor’s recreational program during the 1950’s. He tendered his final resignation to Mayor Louis Marini in 1959. “It’s time for me to turn out to pasture, relax and think back of the few races that I’ve won in my heyday”, he wrote.
Butler died on August 1, 1962. His sports legacy was popular with journalists well into the 1970’s. The Michael H. Dad Butler Memorial Playground near Conant and Eight Mile came to fruition in 1963. Today, it is wonderfully updated and a boon to the neighborhood.
Copyright 2015, Andrea Gallucci
Yesterday, WDET published a wonderful story regarding Bronson Gentry. Below is the other half of the story on Peter Maheras.
I was so happy to find personal details of this exceptional young Detroiter. Other versions regarding Peter are short and list him as an early death in WWII. I don’t perceive that to be correct as he was not accepted in the Army until Nov 1943, shipped out to Europe in Aug 1944, and died in early 1945. The war ended 9-2-45. Unfortunately, there are several others Detroit boys I have researched who perished prior. Regardless, the personal letters I have read regarding Peter Maheras describe him as a happy guy who would overcome and wouldn’t let you down. As always, thanks for reading and remembering Peter. ag
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.
Curtis Laing – Mantle Club Secretary, 1947
Friends were important part of Peter Maheras’ life… “Just call me Pete” was what he would say to them. As a young immigrant Detroiter, he delivered newspapers and used the cash earned to shower his friends with his generosity. He was active in sports at Southeastern High School – golfing, skating, baseball, swimming etc. and became the manager of the football team. His yearbook entry indicated his desire to attend Wayne State Medical School. His true love however was working on old radios. This skill would help him finally enter the military.
At 16, Maheras graduated from Southeastern High and he took his first job with Briggs Manufacturing. Later, he went on to Norge Aircraft. In 1939, he became a member of the Detroit Mantle Club – a service based organization. His exuberance was felt through the club as he was active in Red Cross efforts and WWII War Bond sales; he became a club officer in 1941.
In 1942 while at Norge Aircraft, World War II was underway. He tried to enlist several times being rejected for bad eyesight. A personal letter from a friend indicates that he was ‘trying to exercise’ his eyes to get in on the join; the plan failed. Finally in 1943, the Army decided they needed Peter. In line with his hobby, he was assigned to the Radio Signal Corp.
Working as an aid medic with the 81st Medical Battalion, 11th Armored Division, he was accompanying an infantry platoon on January 14, 1945 in a wooded area. The platoon was under heavy fire and became trapped. When two men became wounded, Maheras didn’t hesitate to crawl through machine gun fire to administer aid. He used his body to shield the men, was struck and died. He received the Silver Star and Purple Heart posthumously and is interred in the Luxembourg American Military Cemetery.
Algonquin Field [est. 1928] on the Detroit River was renamed to remember this incredibly determined fellow. The location was truly perfect as Greek immigrants George and Bessie Maheras raised their family in the neighborhood leading to the park entrance. Large sections of the land to make up Algonquin Field were acquired in 1928, 1943, 1954 and 1957. At the conclusion of World War II, temporarily housing for returning veterans was built on the site remaining there until the early 1950’s.
In 1997, the field was renamed Maheras – Gentry to additionally honor the dedication of Bronson Gentry, an expert horse shoe player and community activist.
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.
His naval citation reads: “Hammerberg by his cool judgement, unfaltering professional skill, and consistent disregard of all danger in the face of tremendous odds, had contributed effectively to the saving of his two comrades… he gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.”
NO HESITATION, JUST INTENSE SELF SACRIFICE
On February 17, 1945 Owen Hammerberg rescued two fellow divers trapped under the hulk of a mud bound sunken ship in Pearl Harbor. After several hours of working in 40 feet deep, black water, Owen freed the first trapped man. Without rest, he next moved far under the buried ship, reaching a spot above the second trapped diver.
A heavy piece of steel dropped on upon him and pinned him crosswise over his friend. Bearing all the weight from the steel, Owen protected him until he could be freed. Hammerberg later perished in a hospital.
His parents – Jonas Hammerberg and Elizabeth Moss accepted the posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor on his behalf. On August 19, 1954, his mother christened a destroyer escort named the USS Hammerberg to perpetuate the memory of his heroics. This ship stayed in service short of two decades and was decommissioned and sold for scrap in December 1973. Owen continues to be honored with two memorials – a Detroit playground at West Chicago and Wyoming; a memorial in Veterans Park in Stephenson, MI erected by VFW Post 5966.
Late August 2015 – Somebody’s getting an upgrade! According the White Construction website, Kemeny Recreation Center will be torn down and completely rebuilt featuring a new pool, common areas, gymnasium, basketball courts etc. Construction should be completed in Fall 2016. Great news for this Detroit neighborhood! Congratulations to the Kemeny family, the memory of Charlie is here to stay for another long while in Detroit. Additional thanks to White Construction for linking out to the story. Andrea
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.
The Kemeny family was well-known in their Delray neighborhood. Steve (Istivan) and Julia were European immigrants chasing and realizing the American dream. Their travels took them first to West Virginia where they owned a grocery store and Charles was born. When Detroit became their home base, they started the Hinky Dink Bar, a longtime fixture on West Jefferson Avenue. Charles made the family proud with service in North Africa as well as Salerno, Anzio and Casino, Italy with the 36th Infantry Division, Army Corps of Engineers. He was killed in action on August 25, 1944 in France.
On August 25, 1944 Kemeny’s platoon was assigned the mission to establish a line of defense outside a small town in France. He and four buddies were manning a machine gun post when enemy infantry troops and tanks charged. They determinedly remained in position and braved heavy fire defending the advance. As the enemy closed in they moved to a stronger position across the road. They continued to return intense fire knowing their stand would be fatal. The summation of their courage enabled their platoon to withdraw establishing a more favorable defense. Charles received the Silver Star posthumously. His body was re-interred in Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery preceded by a funeral march and formal military salute.
In 1951, Kemeny was honored with a large memorial park and recreation center in the southernmost tip of Detroit snuggled between Fort Street and I-75. Detroit Mayor Louis Miriani and Holy Cross Pastor Andras Jakab presided over the dedication. Kemeny playground is stocked with a mixture of new and old equipment/amenities, baseball diamonds, bleachers, picnic grounds. The rec center is now closed but boasts a great stand of cana lilies in the front of the building. The playground possesses what is possibly the only concrete horse [sans ear] in a Detroit park. The dedication plaque honoring Charles is intact on the flagpole base.
Please read more about Detroit’s former Hungarian community and this interesting Detroit family. There are some really great written histories, photos and detailed descriptions of the events and the neighborhood on the above link. With the advent of the new bridge to Canada, more of the Old Delray neighborhood will likely be disappearing. Thanks to R. S. Bujaki and the Kemeny family for their patience and the permissions in using the family photos.
As always, thanks for reading. Andrea Gallucci ©2015.
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.
Edward did an apprenticeship as a sailor and became captain of his father’s schooner – the Columbian; a short-lived adventure running the Great Lakes. Father and son would reunite in Detroit in 1871. Nothing was handed to Edward. He rented the Detroit brewery from his father who moved back to Europe. His energy and work ethic resulted in the ability to purchase the entire brewery operation from Carl in 1882. In 1893, his Rheingold beer earned 4 medals in the Chicago World’s Fair.
In 1889, British investors took great interest in purchasing or leasing American brewing facilities. Brewers such as the Stroh family and Anheuser Busch were vocally opposed to this practice. Edward Voigt negotiated the lease of his brewery for the period of 1890-1897. At the end of the contract, he received his business back but without a clean title. He enacted foreclosure proceedings to clear the title and stood in front of the old Detroit city hall to rebid on his business at auction. His creative business practices increased his fortune. He amassed extensive land holdings and was a principal founder of the Edison Illuminating Company which employed Henry Ford.
Around 1902, Voigt donated a rectangular parcel of land at 2nd and 3rd Avenues, Longfellow and Edison Avenues to the city on the condition it would be converted to a park and named for him.
Edward Voigt died at home on May 14, 1920 of a stroke. In 1922, the Voigt estate sold the brewery to a demolition firm who pulled down the chimney with a chain and a truck. The tumbling brick marked the end of Voigt reign in Detroit and the beginning of prohibition.
Thanks for reading.. ©Andrea G. 2015
Not many parks in Detroit named for the ladies..only a few more after this one..
Carlotta ‘Lotta’ Blackwell Martz (1868 – 1959) was born to Irish immigrant parents John and Mary. Her father is reported as being Detroit’s first Irish police officer in the 1870’s.
Described as tall and striking, Lotta led an active life as a club woman in turn of the century Detroit. She was a charter member of the Catholic Women’s League and longtime president of the Wayne County Republican Women’s Club. In 1914, the Detroit City charter went under revision and a ten member recreation commission was born. Martz was appointed and notably became the first woman recreation commissioner. During her tenure, the Detroit Department of Parks and Boulevards began to gain national recognition.
Strong and controversial in her views, Lotta openly admitted that she refused to work for women’s suffrage during the early 1900’s. She supported strong family life over women in public office. In the 1950’s she commented, “I hate to say so but I don’t think the women’s vote has changed things much. And I’m not sure women do enough good in public office to make up for the increasing breakup of the family.”
She married “Holiday Bill” Martz (1887-1940) in 1896 and they raised 3 boys – Lyall, Clifford and Floyd. Bill Martz was a Wayne County Sheriff and became a State of Michigan legislator [1911-1918] who was publicly described as an immaculate dresser [complete with cane]; a champion life of the party, and had a cigar named for him. He was nicknamed for introducing bills to award police and firefighters extra days off from duty. He died in 1940.
Lotta Martz spent her final years living in the storied Carmel Hall at 2560 Woodward at Adelaide. [Click that link for a really really good story about that former hotel.] In 1955, the former Hotel Detroiter morphed into a senior living center owned by the Detroit Catholic Archdiocese and run by the Carmelite Sisters. Lotta found camaraderie among the other residents. She made certain “the girls had absentee ballots to vote” and enjoyed working the Ouija board, although she had difficulty getting others to join her, “they just want to play cards”, she remarked.
In an interview on her 90th birthday, she indicated raising her family was her most important achievement. She died at Providence Hospital in November 1959 at the age of 92. She rests in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
In February 1960, the Flanders – Elmo Playground was renamed as Lotta Martz Memorial Playfield. Today, this playground hosts soccer games and practices in the warm weather. It features updated signage, fencing, picnic shelter and play equipment clocking in around 3 acres. It is eastside located at St. Patrick and Gunston Street.
Again thanks for reading.. andreag © 2015.
Weiss park is a small, renovated park just off Woodmere Cemetery in southwest Detroit. I stopped over on a drizzly day; a dad and a young boy were playing together on the swings while I snapped some photos.
Here’s the verbiage from above sign which is directly taken from Carl’s US Military Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Carl Walter Weiss, Sergeant, US Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving with Company C, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marines Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces west of the Matanikau River in the Solomon Islands Area on November 1 and 2, 1942. Advancing in the face of persistent enemy machine gun and rifle fire, Sergeant Weiss, with grim determination and dauntless courage, neutralized an enemy machine gun nest with a grenade and returned to set up his own machine gun. As the infuriated Japanese charged up the hill with bayonets, Sergeant Weiss, directing the fire of his gunners, repulsed them three times, but during the last assault, one of his men was wounded and rolled forward of the gun. Under the punishing fire of the enemy, Sergeant Weiss crawled forward and dragged his comrade to safety.
On the following day as Sergeant Weiss again inched his way over the nose of the hill to set up his gun, a hostile automatic weapon fired upon him, but he continued on and threw a hand grenade into the enemy position. As he attempted to throw a second grenade, he was hit and killed. His great personal valor, aggressiveness and fine spirit of self-sacrifice were an inspiration to his comrades and contributed in a large measure to the success of this operation. He gallantly gave up his life in the defense of his country. He received the award of the Navy Cross.
The Carl Weiss playlot is a small and wonderfully renovated greenspace. While not overly apparent, it is ADA compliant helping all kids to be able to play equally. Most signage is written in English, Spanish and Arabic serving the total community. It was initially dedicated on July 1, 1948 then re-dedicated in May 2010 after the renovation. It sits just outside of Woodmere Cemetery on Mandale Street.
Sometimes when you search far and wide, you end up finding your future right in the place where you began. Ontario born Bruce Wark (b.1874-1944) came to Detroit in 1894 and began selling typewriters. Without result, he chucked that career and spent the last two years of the nineteenth century as a prospector in the Klondike seeking a gold rush fortune. Pardon the pun, it didn’t pan out. When he returned to Detroit in 1900, he would find his fortune was waiting for him.
First, Wark successfully navigated a stock brokerage business, building a strong clientele which he sold in 1909. Next, he joined Monroe Steel Castings; a short lived manufacturing pursuit. By 1911, he was knee deep in a real estate partnership with the Robert Oakman Land Co. He would become involved in real estate development as well as the laying out of Oakman Boulevard. The friendship was strong. In 1917, Wark was involved in a hit and run automobile accident and jailed. Robert Oakman provided his bail.
He gave service to his new homeland. During World War I, he was a Captain and commanding officer of Company F, 553rd Infantry, Michigan State Troops. Additionally, he was chairman of the Draft Board No. 4 in Michigan.
Wark later established his own real estate firm, Wark-Gilbert Co. which was involved in the platting and opening of subdivisions such as Oakford, Gravner Park and Ecorse Manor in Southwest Detroit. Further, he was an affiliate of Detroit Homes, Inc. Wark was the Vice President of Detroit Real Estate Board in 1928 and the president of the Sourdough Club, an organization of Detroit gold rush pioneers that formed in 1930’s.
Bruce Wark Sr. died in 1944. The land for the park named in his honor was donated by his heirs. Today the odd park is similar to a grassy alley sandwiched between the backyards of homes fronting Carlin and Decatur streets south of Plymouth Road. When I drove by the grass was long and it seemed forgotten. I only recognized it as a small park by the crooked, rusty flagpole and the wooden signage reading: No dumping.
Thanks for learning more about Detroit.
Copyright and all rights reserved, 2015, Andrea Gallucci.