Posts of interest to local history buffs, written by local history buffs!

The Monuments Men

One of the most anticipated movies this fall is The Monuments Men, based on the book The Monuments Men : Allied heroes, Nazi thieves, and the greatest treasure hunt in history by Robert M. Edsel.

The Monuments Men, a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of them volunteers, who were museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators, artists, architects, and archivists. These mostly middle-aged family men, walked away from successful careers into the epicenter of the war, risking—and some losing—their lives. They raced against time in order to save the world’s greatest cultural treasures from destruction at the hands of Nazi regime.

A little known fact is that one of these brave men lived among us quietly for decades - Charles Sawyer, a member of the Roberts Commission, established by President Roosevelt on June 23, 1943, charged with promoting the preservation of cultural properties in war areas, provided this mission did not interfere with military operations. Professor Sawyer was the Director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art from 1957-1972.

The Charles Sawyer Center for Museum Studies at the University of Michigan Museum of Art was founded in his honor in 2003. “Charlie” Sawyer passed away after a brief illness on February 25, 2005. Here are the Old News articles on Charles Sawyer.

AADL Talks To WWII Vet Thomas Fournier

In this episode, AADL talks to long-time Kerrytown resident Thomas Fournier. Mr. Fournier is an ex-Seebee and WWII Veteran who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day at the age of 17. Tom survived D-Day and two more amphibious landings in New Guinea and the Philippines before coming home in 1945. Tom talked with AADL about his early life in Detroit and his experience as a Seabee in World War II. His stories of military life and the camaraderie, bravery and humor that sustained the troops are honest and compelling.

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AADL_Talks_To-Thomas_Fournier.mp3 44.6 MB

The African American Cultural & Historical Museum Of Washtenaw County Living Oral History Project

Sunday September 22, 2013: 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm -- Traverwood Branch: Program Room

Join AADL and the African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County for this premiere of their Living Oral History Project.

Five community members were identified to initiate the project by participating in a series of professionally filmed and edited.interviews. Interviewees included Rosemarion Blake, Russell Calvert, Lydia Morton, Willis Patterson, and Johnnie Mae Seeley.

The interviews serve as a road map to what African Americans witnessed, experienced, shared, and contributed in building the community we see today. Topics such as race, gender and education equality, faith, housing, employment, community building activities, and infrastructure were presented and discussed, providing a spectrum relevant to issues and concerns within Washtenaw County.

This event will include a short program and an opportunity to speak with those interviewed. Light refreshments will be served. The Oral History project and the video interviews will be available for viewing and download on the Library website following the premiere.

The State Theater ~ State of the Art Movie House

The opening of a new movie theater is always a big news item but it was especially noteworthy for the State Theater. The State opened in the midst of World War II when Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County were focused on their role of building bombers and equipment for the United States military. The building of the theater was announced in November, 1940 with a planned opening date of August 1941. When the theater finally opened in March, 1942, the Ann Arbor News devoted an entire section of the March 17th issue to the gala event.

The section included articles on the Butterfield Company and its founder, W. S. Butterfield. The News reported on the modern equipment, the modern design, the modern screen, even the cooling system. The building of the State involved 35 companies, including many local firms. To make way for the theater, six businesses were removed. Butterfield moved Majestic Theater manager Larry Mull and his staff to the State.

Local businesses took out dispaly ads welcoming the State, and the PR machine of the movie studios went into high gear sending telegrams from stars like Clark Gable, Norma Shearer and Mickey Rooney congratulating the State. The opening movie was The Fleet's In starring Dorothy Lamour and William Holden. The News even reached back into their archives to recount the famous student riot of 1908 at the Star Theater.

Grace Shackman's Then & Now article on the Whitney Theater fills in the local theater scene. Old News had published articles on many of Ann Arbor's theaters.

"Ole 98" Is Safe! Lt. Tom Harmon - Great on the Field, Heroic in Battle

On September 7, 2013, The University of Michigan football team unretired the jersey of one of their greatest, All-American Tom Harmon. Most Michigan fans know about his many exploits on the field that won him the Heisman Trophy. Fewer know that he served heroically in World War II. On April 15, 1943, the story broke in the Ann Arbor News that his Army bomber plane went down and he was Missing in Action. Harmon's ordeal dominated the front page of the News for much of April, as family, friends and fans assured each other that "Ole 98" was tough enough to survive a crash and the jungles of South America. The Ann Arbor News wondered if the flight was his Last Play?

Then, on April 17th, news came that Harmon was safe, having survived a solo, four-day ordeal in the jungle. His parents got the news just after returning from a mass in his honor at St. Mary's Student Chapel. An emotional Michigan coach, Fritz Crisler, and the city were overjoyed at the news. Harmon was the only crew member to survive the crash. He shared the story of the crash and his jungle odyssey in a column released by the Army. The photo that ran in the News on April 23 showed a worn and weary but thankful soldier. Harmon got right back into the fight and in October, 1943, he was shot down over China only to escape capture a second time. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star. Harmon died in 1990.

The Gardens of Ann Arbor - A Walk Through the History of the Ann Arbor Garden Club

For more than 80 years the Ann Arbor Garden Club has been beautifying the public and private lands of Ann Arbor. Old News is launching a new Feature on the history of the AAGC this Wednesday, Septemeber 11, at 7:00 p.m. at the Pittsfield Branch Library. Grace Shackman's article highlights the Garden Club's commitment to their original mission, to assist the citizens of Ann Arbor to grow a beautiful city through education, outreach, community service and public events. The Feature includes hundreds of articles and photos from the archives of the Ann Arbor News.

The Battle On Broadway Hill: When The Soap Box Derby Came To Ann Arbor

In 1936 the Ann Arbor Daily News and Chevrolet brought the Soap Box Derby to Ann Arbor, promoting the race with page one stories, plenty of pictures of local boys and display ads meant to entice every boy in the county to enter the Derby. Officials were appointed, the rules explained and the "long, smooth and straight" Broadway Hill named as the site of the race. The lead-up to the race gave News photographers plenty of display space for their pictures of local hopefuls building and testing their cars. More than 6,000 fans watched John Mayfield win the inaugural Battle on Broadway Hill. In 1937, the page one story promoting the Soap Box Derby was bigger, the coverage more extensive and the prizes offered by local merchants really cool. The Chief of Police talked crowd control as race day on Broadway Hill approached. Controversy over his residency did not stop Merlin Hahn from winning the 1937 crown. Although there was plenty of interest by young girls in the race, the Soap Box Derby did not allow girls to compete until 1971. Enjoy the articles and pictures and, if you can, help us solve the mystery: who is Babs?

Update! Turns out "Babs" is the name of the car piloted by 1938 Soap Box Derby winner Lynn Smith and he named the winning car after his sister, Babs Smith. In an interview granted to the News after his victory, Lynn tells all.

AADL Talks To Ann Arbor Police Chief John Seto

In July, 2012, Ann Arbor promoted "one of its own" to Police Chief and Safety Services Director. John Seto joined the Ann Arbor Police Department in 1990 and served as patrol officer, detective, SWAT team leader, and Interim Safety Services Director. Chief Seto talked with us about his long career at the AAPD, how he came to Ann Arbor and his vision for the Department in the 21st century. He recalled his first day in a patrol car, joining the ranks of officers signing the guest book at Drake's Sandwich Shop, and moving into the new Justice Center.

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AADL_Talks_To-John_Seto.mp3 17.6 MB

AADL Talks To Herb David

On April 12, 1962, the Herb David Guitar Studio opened in a basement on South State and one of the great success stories in Ann Arbor and the music business began. AADL talked to Herb David shortly after the closing of his landmark studio on East Liberty, almost 51 years to the day the studio opened. Herb's influence extends beyond the students he taught to love music, the musicians who bought his handmade instruments, the local bands he nurtured and promoted, to the top musicians that visited his studio to talk "shop" and discovered David's wide range of interests in philosophy, cultures and travel. Herb's genuine concern for his community and the power of music to transform lives as well as his great sense of humor shine through in this podcast.

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AADL_Talks_To-Herb_David.mp3 18.4 MB

Karl Pohrt, Owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop

Old News has digitized Ann Arbor News articles on Karl Pohrt (obituary), owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop.

He is remembered warmly as a community leader who took an active role in organizations such as Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, State Street Area Association, American Booksellers Association, and the Great Lakes Booksellers Association. He was also a founding member of the Ann Arbor Book Festival.

Read Dave Askins' tribute to Karl Pohrt in The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

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